In the agency world, it’s fair to say that PowerPoint design sits somewhere at the bottom of the pile. Working with a specialist presentation design company will generally deliver better results, with less effort, and typically at lower cost. So why do some companies just go with their marketing agency for presentations?
What’s the difference between a presentation and a speech? Many people use the words interchangeably, but there are two main areas of difference according to the dictionary definitions. Whether one accepts the dictionary definition is another matter – my four year-old daughter sometimes refuses – but that makes further discussion pretty difficult.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a speech is defined as:
a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience
According to the Scrabble fan’s choice – the Collins English Dictionary – a speech is:
a talk or address delivered to an audience
Note that in the Collins definition, the part about being formal is missing.
Both the Oxford English and Collins dictionaries define presentation as including some sort of visual element. The OED definition is:
a speech or talk in which a new product, idea, or piece of work is shown and explained to an audience
Note that this includes the word ‘shown’. The Collins definition is even clearer in explicitly mentioning the use of illustrative material:
a verbal report presented with illustrative material, such as slides, graphs, etc
The Collins Dictionary also notes how the word presentation is used more generally to talk about how things are shown – ‘the manner of presenting, esp the organization of visual details to create an overall impression’.
Presentations and speeches
Does the distinction hold perfectly? No. Firstly, people use the terms interchangeably, so of course the real world is full of speeches that are called presentations and presentations that are called speeches. Which leads to a natural blurring of the boundaries. Second, some presentations are very formal indeed, and some set-piece speeches (e.g. The State of the Union Address) can have visuals added to them but without the orator interacting with them.
The boundaries aren’t sharp. But, according to the definition, a speech is a talk or address, and a presentation is a talk with the use of some sort of visual aid.
Speech vs. presentation
Why does this matter? Because giving a speech – for a lot of people – seems harder than giving a presentation. Bad slides are actually worse than no slides. But the reason so many speakers want slides or props is because they find it too hard to deliver speeches, and because effective visual aids makes it easier for them to get their points across.
Effective visuals – that support a speaker – make delivering presentations easier than delivering speeches for most people. Not everyone feels they can hold an audience with simply the sound of their own voice.
Great speeches are, well… great. But they aren’t the same as presentations, and shouldn’t be held up as examples of what those giving presentations should emulate.
P.S. For more on words and definitions, see Meaning and Necessity by Saul Kripke.Leave a comment
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