Aims and activities

The other day in a training course we were looking at the difference between ‘aims’ and ‘activities’.

‘Improving people’s work performance’ is an aim; ‘running a training course’ is an activity.
So many people answered the question ‘What do they pay me for?’ with “I don’t really know.” One woman said “My boss explained me the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but not the ‘what for.’”

Recently I was helping a department in a company to launch a communication campaign. Answering the ‘what for’ took up well over half the time, probably nearer three-quarters. The other two questions, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ were easy.

So why is this important?

Well, if you don’t know the ‘what for’ of your job you’re vulnerable. You can’t negotiate with your boss or anyone else for that matter when they try to change your priorities, for example.

Another thing happened in that course too.
I said “The purpose of a presentation is to inspire someone and make your messages memorisable and memorable.”
Later on, when checking what the group was learning, a man said “The purpose of a PPT (sic) is to inspire someone and make the message memorisable and memorable.” More or less word for word what I’d said.

With a subtle and important difference. He’d remembered the idea but equated PowerPoint slides with the presentation. Slides are only a medium, an aid, a support (an activity). He’s right, of course, in that you can also say the purpose of a slide is to make a message memorisable and memorable but slides are not the presentation.

And when people ask me “Can I send you my presentation and you can give me feedback?”, I say “You can’t. It’s impossible. You can send me your slides and I’ll give you feedback. Or a recording of your rehearsal if you like. The presentation is you with your visual support.”

So why is this important?

Lots of people start preparing presentations by opening PowerPoint and doing three things at the same time: Structure their message, put down what they want to say and design a visual aid. No wonder it’s tremendously time-consuming and inefficient.

Define your aim, analyse your audience, use a mind map to prepare what you want to say, do your prompts and then design your visual aids.

You may not need to use PowerPoint. If you never forget your purpose you will come up with more creative things than a two-dimensional slide. The classic time management example of the big stones, smaller stones and so on put into a jar shows what you can do with props.

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