Over the years, we’ve seen lots of discussions around best practices in how to engage audiences of different generations. But what isn’t always discussed is the actual content you create before your presentation. Baby Boomers are delaying retirement and remaining in the workforce. Millennials are entering and coming of age. And Gen Xers, those poor slackers, are sandwiched in the middle. Each cohort uses and reacts to presentation technology and style differently.
Baby Boomers are the most disciplined group, with a longer attention span, and a sense of meeting etiquette and protocol. Baby Boomers will suffer through the worst speaker and still try to get something out of his or her presentation because that’s what has been expected in business and in life. They have a longer concentration span and will try to read through slides, focusing on the content presented as well as what the speaker is saying. They will study the slides you present, and analyze you as a speaker.
They are a critical, thoughtful audience. So, use images and video minimally only to reinforce what you are saying. More importantly, create a storyline with a clear beginning, middle and end. Think of a 70s sitcom that opens with an establishing shot, has a conflict in the middle, and nice conclusion—all tidied up in 30 minutes. Think substance over style.
Given the sheer size of the Boomer and Millennial generations, Gen X doesn’t get much attention these days. But they are in their 40s and 50s, taking on leadership roles in corporations and in government. Though you wouldn’t know it for all the attention marketers give to Boomers and Millennials, they are the decision makers for this and the next decade.
Gen Xers came of age during the battle between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They are comfortable with Office programs, and PowerPoint is second nature to them. They rely on all its features—animation, images and video—and like its linear, outline format. However, they still require a convincing storyline, and will look to the slides behind you to help them absorb what you are saying. In your slides, use clean, succinct bullet points. Avoid compound sentences and prose. Bold images and animations will help highlight an important point. Use video to reinforce your story. Presenting style and presentation graphics weigh equally.
Millennials grew up with the Internet, so multimedia and multitasking are second nature to them. They will browse multiple screens on their mobile device while doing some other mundane task like grocery shopping or working out. Hence the need for “Don’t text and drive” campaigns! Presentations appealing to this group must convey a sense of energy, and must keep moving. Be creative and grab their attention in the first 30 seconds of your pitch. If you start with, “Hello, my name is John Doe from Acme Company,” you have already lost them. They live in the now with social channels such as Instagram, Snapchat and FaceTime. They value authenticity, so your presentation should reflect that.
A typical linear PowerPoint slide show will bore them. Use interactivity and a variety of media. Include links so you can jump between topics within your deck, or open another App, video, or file entirely. This will allow your presentation to follow your conversation, which will make for a much more authentic experience, as opposed to a canned, corporate slide show. When speaking, be your authentic self, and inject energy into your presentation. Use bolder, alluring visuals. Minimize text bullet slides. And videos should be short.
Given their different habits, it may seem daunting to deliver a presentation that reaches across three different generations. When in doubt, remember less is more. Visuals trump verbal. And, pictures and video are the most powerful way to communicate an idea. Technology will continue to advance, so the best presenters will use it to advance their message, no matter how old or young their audience is.