Deciding on the format of your presentation is one of the major things you need to figure out before you actually begin building your deck. More often than not, a presentation will fall into one of three major categories, each of which is defined primarily by the following attributes:

  • 1) Amount of time to present
  • 2) Audience familiarity with the subject in question
  • 3) Whether the document will usually be read as a stand-alone or presented with a voice over

These pieces of information help define the function of a given document, which in turn, should dictate the form of the document.  Once those are known, you can get a better idea on what the final presentation will look like.

The document will probably fall into one of the following presentation types:

  1. Quick and concise.
    Time to present: 10-30 minutes
    Audience familiarity: Medium to high
    Stand-alone or Presented: Presented

    These presentations are quick and to-the-point and cover “just the facts”. A short timeframe means that slides should be limited (5-15 max). A medium to high familiarity means that your audience will probably know about your subject already, so the amount of time you need to spend educating your audience on “the basics” is either limited or non-existent (this is good as it will keep your length short). These types of presentations are usually just that – presentations. If it won’t be shared or read on it’s own without the voice over, then you don’t need to put too many words on a slide. This presentation usually has only a few words on each slide, uses bullet points and nice pretty pictures.

  2. Deep and detailed.
    Time to present: 1 hr +
    Audience familiarity: Low to medium
    Stand-alone or Presented: Either (usually presented first, then shared)

    This type of presentation is great for lectures or educating a group of individuals on research or a big plan. It’s longer (30+ slides depending on time to present, be careful when you start pushing 100 slides…) goes into subjects in more detail and provides more background due to a lower familiarity with the subject. Additionally, it assumes that the presentation will either be presented with a voice over and a presenter, or shared and meant to be read as a stand-alone. Because of this, the presentation should have full sentences and more complete thoughts in bullet points.

  3. Hybrid.
    Time to present: Varying
    Audience familiarity: Varying
    Stand-alone or Presented: Either

    The final type is a hybrid, a blend between deep and detailed and quick and concise. This is kind of a catch all bucket that gives you creative freedom to craft a document you see fit for the audience in question. Let’s say there’s a document that is only going to be emailed around to your audience and you don’t have time to present it – this means you should include full sentences instead of bullet points in order to make sure everyone understands what you’re trying to say. Or if you’re creating a training document that is meant to be presented in 15 minutes, but read in more detail later by the trainee – again, this would mean catering the length of your content to this need.

The key factor when deciding on which format to use is always form following function. Know what function your document or presentation needs to serve, then you’ll be able to decide on what form it should take.


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