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
Written by

Joby Blume


View Joby Blume's profile

Related articles

Jul 2024

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 still not use presentation agencies for slide design?

Jul 2024

Sales presentations are the cornerstone of many companies’ sales efforts, yet so often they aren’t given the time and attention they deserve. Thrown together at the last-minute, often your sales reps stand up in front of a sales presentation that's nothing more than a glorified page of notes. Read this article for everything you need to make the ultimate sales presentation.

Jul 2024

Choosing a presentation design agency for your enterprise is a lot harder than buying a product. With presentation design services, you don’t know what you’re going to get until the project is nearly finished. What you get from the studio isn’t the exact same thing as what any other business ends up with. So how do you choose the right presentation design firm for your company?

  1. Image of abdalla abdalla says:

    This is very interesting. I do appreciate it.

  2. Image of tayababatool tayababatool says:

    well… i found this information very useful,,,, thanks

  3. Image of Okesanya Adeola Okesanya Adeola says:

    This has helped me with my assignment thanks a lot

  4. Image of Mamaru Mamaru says:

    It is useful information it helps me doing anassignment.thanks

  5. Image of Asad Asad says:

    Deference between speech and presentation

  6. Image of Sibghat Memon Sibghat Memon says:

    Speech Vs Presentation Vs Debate Compitation?
    Speech: Speech Eleborate In Your Ideas That You Have Crammed(Ratafication).
    Presetation:To Suggest Anything Infront Of All Student By Using Your Slides Its Own Way That You Have Worked For Project.
    Debate Compitation:To Disscuss Your Ideas With One Another..

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

We were notified on Friday that we’ve been successful in our renewal bid. They were particularly complementary about our presentation and claimed it was one of the best they’ve had.

Greg Tufnall Siemens