Content is central to any presentation. Your content must be accurate, factual, and well-organized before you start adding any kinds of bells and whistles along with it. In an ideal world, you would have a thorough knowledge of your subject matter before you start to present, but we all know that doesn't happen every time. Our clients and supervisors give us assignments just outside our comfort zones, or we change jobs and have to learn new product lines, or a new issue comes up that we have to quickly learn, digest, and be able to explain to someone else.
With all the advances in presentation technology (like PowerPoints and multimedia) it's pretty easy to get distracted from the meat of the presentation. Sometimes people spend hours working with their animated transitions--when what really matters is the message. It's pretty easy to understand how this happens. Research is hard if you're working on a new subject. And if it's a familiar subject, you feel like you know it so well you don't even have to prepare. And jazzy presentation software is sometimes just fun to play with.
However, keep in mind the great and famous presenters who shaped world history: Moses; Jesus; Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Abraham Lincoln. What stands out about these speeches are the concepts expressed and the words used to express them. Most of these orators lived in a time before any kind of visual aids were available (except for Moses, who had the stone tablets) a lack of visuals forced speakers to focus on the message.
To develop a thorough base of knowledge, make sure you understand the topic well. If you are already an expert, you may not need to spend a lot of time researching details, but you will need to make sure you have a firm grasp on the particulars for this situation. For example, if you have designed an algorithm that allows a computer program to perform one specific activity very well, and you only sell your technology within one industry, you have probably explained exactly how this software works so many times that you could do it in your sleep. In this case, you don't need to research technical details about your software, but you do need to research the potential client to whom you are presenting. Make an effort to understand their position in the industry, what threats and opportunities are before them, and what their biggest challenges are at the moment. Then, you can target your presentation so that it specifically addresses their needs, and how your product can fill them.
If you are starting fresh with a topic: let's say you are taking a class at the local college and you have to give a presentation about color theory, but you know nothing at all about it, then you'll have to do a lot of digging before you can begin to put a presentation together. Make sure you have finished your analysis of the rhetorical situation and that you understand your audience so that you can focus your research on what that is appropriate for that audience and situation.
You can also use scholarly articles, newspapers, magazines, and informal interviews. Consider conducting informal public opinion surveys--simply ask the people around you what their perception is about a particular issue.
Whatever the situation, you'll do better if you prepare yourself with a greater depth of knowledge than you actually expect to need. Your audience will not need to be drowned in information, but they might want to ask you questions outside the scope of your prepared presentation. Extra research also prevents you from making incorrect assumptions and accidentally providing misinformation--which is never a good idea, but it can be a big embarrassment and cause a loss of credibility if you have experts in the audience who will point out your errors.
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