The Presenter’s Gift: How to Add Value for Your Audience


One of the worst comments a presenter can hear from their audience is “That was a waste of time.” When this happens the audience feels that the presenter has ‘taken’ their time without giving back anything of value.

Why does this happen?  Many presenters I work with feel the stresses of a challenging global economy, the rapid changes within their own organizations, as well as the pressure to perform.  With this, it’s no wonder that speakers adopt a get-it-done mindset and rush to put their ideas down on slides without giving much thought to what would truly have value for their audiences.   To succeed, presenters need to break out of this mindset and focus on giving information that helps their audiences succeed.

On a recent trip to China I was reminded about the importance of adopting a ‘giving’ mindset when presenting.  Towards the end of a visit to Zhouzhuang, a beautiful ‘water village’ of canals and bridges outside of Shanghai, I came upon an area of Buddhist temples where people were lighting candles and offering prayers.  As I stood nearby, a gentleman introduced himself and asked if I would like to pray.  Not knowing what the correct process was, I hesitated briefly but said yes.  He then showed me how to light the candles and bow in three directions, which symbolized the connection between myself, the earth and the sky.

He then introduced himself – an executive from Malaysia on holiday.  After I told him about my company and work on presentation skills, he said, “Yes, when we develop our managers we focus on both capabilities and character.   A person can have capabilities – skills, but it is also important that they have a positive character and purpose to their work.”   I mentioned that I often coach people to ‘be of service’ to their audience and he said that this matches the Buddhist philosophy of ‘giving’ of oneself.  After some more discussion he gave me his card and an invitation to visit him if I was ever in Malaysia.

On the bus trip back from Zhouzhuang to Shanghai, I thought about the conversation with the Malaysian executive and how amazing it was to talk about presentation skills with someone like him thousands of miles from my home in the U.S.  It also reinforced my thinking about ‘being of service’ as a presenter.

We often think that giving a successful presentation means communicating what we want to say.  That is the capability or skill part.  Being of service means our mindset about presenting focuses on providing value for our audiences, regardless of their culture.

While this is a noble concept, the key question is: How do you apply this mindset to your presentations?   Here are my ideas:

1. Take time to understand people’s day-to-day roles, challenges and goals, so your information is relevant to their situation.

2. Give people the information they need to take the action you are requesting. If you want executives to approve the budget for your project, then help them make an informed decision.  Know what’s important to them, so the data and strategies you present are what they want. If you want people to change their behavior, show them how the change helps them accomplish their goals, as well as the goals of the organization. Using this focus can help you quickly identify the right information to include in your presentation.

3. If you find yourself getting nervous and worrying about how you will perform, take a breath and refocus your energy on what you can do to help your audience succeed.

“Giving” a presentation is more than just communicating your ideas.  It’s offering your audience a ‘gift’, information that has value for them.  Adopting a being of service mindset can help you succeed as a presenter, even in turbulent times.