One the most useful pieces of advice I ever received about making presentations was: think of a presentation as a bridge. The goal is to take the audience from their initial understanding of the subject across a gap of logic and knowledge to a new, shared understanding. This metaphor has a number of implications:
- Know where your audience is starting from. Granted, not everyone is coming from the same place, but it is the author’s responsibility to have a good understanding of the audience’s base level of knowledge on the subject.
- By the end of the presentation, the audience should have arrived at the same spot. If, by the end of the presentation, people walk out of the room with a bunch of different ideas as to the conclusion—then I’ve messed up in some way. While constructing presentation slides can resemble artwork, the presentation shouldn’t be open to interpretation.
- Bridges are straight, and your presentation should be straightforward. It isn’t a twisting mountain road that you are constructing. Bridges take the shortest, most logical path to the conclusion.
- Each link in the bridge should connect to the previous link. Ok, that’s either obvious or stretching the metaphor. Nevertheless, the logic in a presentation should be linear. There isn’t a lot of jumping around that is necessary. Playful misdirections or tangents are annoying to an audience who has many other places to be and things to do.
- The bridge needs to have a solid foundation. The top-line logic of your presentation should have a strong analytical foundation. In fact, each link in logic—each slide—needs to be fully supported with the best possible supporting data.