Message and Medium

by Sharlyn Lauby on September 2, 2009

Many of us see and give presentations on a regular basis.  It’s amazing to me, given the number of presentations out there, how many people don’t know the basics of delivering a well thought out presentation.  There are two key elements:  message and medium.

Message is the point you’re trying to get across.  What do you want people to come away with from your presentation?

Medium is the communication tool you use to get that point across.  It might be PowerPoint, video, lecture, etc.

My feeling is you can have a lousy message but if the medium is dynamic and entertaining…people will leave your session happy but with no clue what they were supposed to learn.  You know who these people are.

Attendee:  “What a great session.  You must see him/her.”

Me:  “What did they talk about?”

Attendee:   (Insert sound of crickets here.)  “They were so funny!”

PresentationThe reverse also applies.  You can have a rock solid message and if you don’t use the right medium to get it across, then people probably won’t get it.  This usually translates into people walking out of sessions or texting their BFF or making their grocery list while you’re talking.

On some level, this not only applies to presentations but to resumes as well.  If you have great info but use some hokey font, you run the risk of a recruiter not taking you seriously.  There’s a great discussion about fonts over at Ask a Manager right now…check it out.

As much as we want to think it’s only the message that counts, medium can sometimes trump even the best messages.  The bottom line is, for your presentation to be engaging and understood it needs to have both a good message and an appropriate medium.

Image courtesy of NASA Images.

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Wally Bock September 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

This has to be a both/and. Think about the person who tells you how great they feel, while their body language screams “sad.” Remember that boss who tried to rev you up with words that he or she didn’t feel? How about the job applicant who’s dressed inappropriately for the position they’re seeking. Medium and message conflicts about and they don’t always involve presentations or slides.

Puf September 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Let me put on my comedian hat for this one.
Here’s a secret, comedy is sales. The punch line is the product. Ten comedians can tell the exact same joke, but only one will make people laugh. This is because the delivery is so important to selling the punch line.
I’m a believer that medium trumps message!

adowling September 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I’m with Puf on this one. The delivery is incredibly important. The not so old saying about Death By PowerPoint is perfect here. I cringe when I see a PowerPoint presentation come up and its full of words. If you’re going to use PP, use it as a visual device and not a crutch.

Trish McFarlane September 3, 2009 at 6:09 am

Once again, you nail it. I can’t tell you how many times I sit through boring presentations (one just this week) where I am making notes about other things I could be doing. Obviously message and medium are both important, but I agree w/Puf and April- I’m leaning a bit more to the medium side because if you can’t capture the attention of the listeners, the message just doesn’t matter. Nice post!

hr bartender September 7, 2009 at 10:54 am

Thanks as always for the great comments. I really like how everyone was able to take this beyond the direct presentation setting and offer some insights beyond the obvious. And speaking of obvious…it should be apparent that we need to truly focus on the message, regardless of the presentation.

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