Defining Your Type of Presentation is Half the Battle

Presentations come in nearly as many forms as there are life situations. In the business world, there are sales presentations, informational presentations, motivational presentations, first encounters, interviews, briefings, status reports, image-building “dog and pony shows,” and, of course, the inevitable training sessions.

In a book I published entitled Presentations: Proven Techniques for Creating Presentations That Get Results, author Daria Price Bowman describes the differences in the basic types of presentations, their individual purposes and special implications.

Focus On the Purpose of the Presentation

However when looking at presentations in the broadest terms, perhaps it’s more important to focus on their purpose. There are three basic purposes for giving oral presentations:

  1. To inform
  2. To persuade
  3. To build goodwill

Informative Presentations

Informative presentations can be divided into two distinct categories: reporting and explaining. A reporting presentation brings the audience up to date on projects or events. These presentations might include sharing minutes from shareholders meetings, executive briefings, or an oral sales reports. The explanatory presentation provides information about products and procedures, rules and regulations, operations, and other nitty-gritty data.

Informational presentations may include talks, seminars, proposals, workshops, conferences, and meetings where the presenter or presenters share their expertise, and information is exchanged.

In a business format, it might involve a supervisor explaining new forms, products, regulations, or filing procedures to employees. During the sales presentation, the sales person may provide information on the product or service to a prospective customer. In a retail situation, newly hired sales clerks may attend a presentation on selling techniques or loss prevention.

Related: Presentation Basics Made Simple

Persuasive Presentations

These are the presentations in which you might attempt to convince the audience to buy your product or service, to support your goals or concepts, or to change their minds or attitudes. Persuasive presentations, which are sometimes called transactional, are often motivational.

In a business context, a supervisor may make a presentation on teamwork in order to motivate employees to support new cooperative efforts within the company structure. It may involve a board asking its shareholders to support changes in the way dividends are distributed. It could involve the distribution arm of an organization making suggestions about packaging changes that would reduce shipping costs. Or it perhaps may involve the marketing department trying to sell top management on the idea of a new promotional campaign.

Related: Presentations: What Matters to Your Audience?

Goodwill Presentations

We’ve all seen this kind of presentation. Departments, units, or teams within a business organization are often rewarded for their success at meetings where their stellar work is showcased. Each of these events usually includes some kind of presentation, most often in the form of a speech or sometimes with a slide show, video, or multimedia event.

Goodwill presentations, which often take the form of after-dinner speeches, are often designed to be entertaining; for example, sharing video highlights of the president’s 10 years at the helm or “roasting” the top sales person. Sometimes they are ceremonial; for example, the dedication of a new company facility, welcoming a new key executive or distributing performance rewards.

The purpose of goodwill presentations for peers, colleagues and superiors is pretty obvious: to build goodwill, to make people feel good about themselves, and to build respect for the organization.


Probably the single most prevalent category of presentations is the sales scenario. Throughout our lives we are “selling” ourselves to teachers, prospective mates, neighbors, or colleagues. But in the business world, we are most often selling our products, services, or ideas. And two essentials for success in a sales presentation are knowing and understanding your audience and building rapport.

Sales presentations can start out simply as first encounters,those one-on-one, get-to-know-each-other meetings over lunch, or a no-frills quickie meeting in a prospective client’s office. If things go according to plan, your first encounter might progress to a full-blown multi-media sales presentation with the top brass and the entire sales team. But most likely you’ll need to schedule a follow-up meeting at which time you will present your proposal and position yourself to close the deal.

Related: Sales Presentations: Adapt to Your Customers’ Needs


In training sessions, presenters teach participants a variety of skills. Topics might include:

  • Sales techniques
  • How to deal with diversity in the workplace
  • Time management and stress reduction
  • Team building
  • Negotiation or leadership
  • Meetings management
  • How to give presentations

And that’s only the beginning. Some companies have entire divisions devoted to training.
In many business situations, training is a captive situation in which the audience has no choice but to participate. So in order to reach the audience, the presenter must make a connection and build rapport, just as in a sales situation.


This type of presentation is often designed to serve more than one purpose. It may be held to inform, build a positive image, and create goodwill. For example, an after-dinner talk at a company-wide dinner may focus on a newly launched product but may also be designed to thank employees and outside contractors. Furthermore the talk may also serve to position the company as highly successful and to make everyone connected with the firm feel positive about their association.

Related: Great Presentations Should Inform and Entertain

Image Building

Image building presentations can be, at once, informative, entertaining, persuasive, and certainly goodwill oriented.

Often in the realm of public relations and marketing professionals, an image-building presentation represents an effort to position a company, an organization, or an individual as a leader in an industry or field, as an expert on a certain subject, as a good-guy, or as a good neighbor. In the end, however, most image-building work is tied to some kind of sales effort, whether it’s selling a product, a service, a person, or a concept. Image-building presentations can also frequently be used as launching pads for extensive public relations publicity efforts.

A chemical company may ask one of its scientists to make a presentation to a high school chemistry class on the positive role chemicals play in our daily lives. This positions the chemical company as a good neighbor and works toward alleviating negative impressions that could affect sales. Such a visit is almost always accompanied by an extensive public relations effort to generate publicity.

A doll manufacturer may address a national parenting organization on the issue of positive role models for girls in order to build the image of caring and responsibility. Here again the PR folks will be busy sending out press releases and trying to set up interview opportunities linked to the presentation.

Motivation Presentations

Motivation is another form of persuasion, but one that somehow takes on a more fervent, highly charged tone. Motivational presenters must know what makes the audience tick and zero in on their hot buttons. They also must use high-energy presentation tactics in order to capture and hold the audience’s attention for the entire message. For example, a real-estate broker may hire a motivational expert who is also a well-known local former sports hero to help motivate his/her staff out of a sales slump.


When a company spokesperson, writer, artist, inventor, or other type of expert appears on a radio or television talk show or is interviewed for an online or print (magazine or newspaper) article, that person is making a presentation.

A job interview is yet another presentation form, one where the presenter should make an effort to identify his/her immediate audience (the interviewer), but should also take great pains to learn as much as possible about the larger audience (the company).

Multipurpose Presentations

Presentations usually have more than one purpose. A presentation to employees may be announced as an informative session on new regulations, but in fact may also be an all-out effort to persuade workers to buy into the new rules. An introductory presentation about new software programs may be a not-so-subtle nudge to those employees who have been slow to adapt to the new programs.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Clearly identify what type of presentation you are making.
  • Have explicit goals and objectives.
  • Adopt the appropriate tone.

Step by Step Guide to Making a Compelling Presentation

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.