Presentation as a bridge

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.