Menu Close

Two essential rules for presentations


Writing for the 'Conversation' blog on HBR.org, Nick Morgan sets out two rules for making a successful presentation.

The first of these is: know your audience.

Morgan reminds us that presentations are about the audience, rather than the speaker and he says the very first thing the presenter should do in preparation is to give thought to the listeners.

Considerations should include the time of day the presentation is taking place, the number of people in the audience, how many speeches they will be hearing and whether they have eaten or are waiting to do so. Such factors should have an effect on the length, style and nature of the presentation.

Morgan points out: "People have more energy and more ability to hear complex ideas early in the day; later in the day their energy flags and they don't want to entertain as many new ideas.

"Larger audiences demand more energy from the speaker and want to laugh more than they want to cry."


It is important to understand the emotional state of the audience, he adds: "What are their dreams? Where do they want to be led? And what have they had recent cause to like or dislike?"

The worst kind of audience for a speaker, warns the author, is a "tired, fed, slightly inebriated" one, for which he recommends Ronald Reagan's after-dinner speech rule of "12 minutes, a few jokes, and sit down before the audience stands up".

The second rule is: tell them one thing and one thing only.

Studies show that we only remember 10% to 30% of what we hear, so the author advocates keeping the presentation simple and focusing it on a single idea.

Morgan advises: "Be ruthless. Write that one idea down in one declarative sentence and paste it up on your computer. Then eliminate everything, no matter how beautiful a slide it's on, that doesn't support that idea."

Two Rules for a Successful Presentation
Nick Morgan