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How to Establish Presentation Objectives

Figuring out how to establish presentation objectives is the first step to a successful presentation. A compelling presentation takes the audience on a fascinating journey from where they are now to your ultimate destination – your presentation objective. To be successful, you need to be clear on the why of your presentation and bring the audience along to know, feel and do what you set out to accomplish.

Michael, an accomplished scientist, worked for an innovative, market-leading life science organization. His assignment: to present to his company peers an update on the progress his division had made during the past six months. And they had made great progress – Michael was eager to talk about it.

He wanted to be sure everyone in his group felt represented, so he began the presentation by identifying each of the five group members and describing their backgrounds and specialty interests. He was delighted to be able to discuss their work, and it showed. He was very enthusiastic.

He introduced their current project with the history of the company’s work in this area and a detailed recap of the milestones achieved. He moved on to discuss their plans for the work they were doing now and where they thought it would take them this year and next.

Michael tried not to get too technical, but he felt that people needed to have a certain amount of background in order to appreciate how hard his team had worked and how remarkable their accomplishments were.

The background information took about fifteen minutes to present. The present state of research took about ten minutes, and the plans for the next year took about fifteen minutes more.

When Michael finished, he fielded a couple of questions from the audience, and they politely clapped, but any observer could see that they had stopped listening long before Michael stopped speaking. What had happened to take this wonderfully intentioned opportunity down the road to audience forgetfulness?

If you don’t have an objective, you can’t achieve it.

Michael’s story is sadly a typical example of good intentions coupled with great knowledge failing to achieve much. Why? Because Michael lacked a clear, compelling presentation objective. If you don’t have an objective, you can’t achieve it.


Every well-constructed presentation starts by creating a clear, compelling objective. Michael’s manager had simply told him to provide an update, and Michael felt he understood what was required: facts about where the project started, its current status and what could be expected in the future. Everything was focused on the science. But what was the update actually intended to achieve?

Michael had not thought through his objective – where did he want to take his audience? Why should they care? And what did he want them to know, feel and do as a result of the presentation? His fact-based approach wasn’t directed toward a higher goal. And while everything he said was well researched and documented, he did not find a way to get the audience to see and feel what he wanted them to: this work is important for the success of the company.

How will you structure your next presentation? Here's a few ideas for how to set presentation objectives, including best practices and examples.

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