When preparing to make a presentation you must fully understand its purpose. Some situations call for commentary, such as explaining how the new accounts payable procedure is going to work. Others call for an editorial, the approach needed if you want to convey your disagreement with the new procedure. You may simply be informing your audience of something; or you may be trying to convince them to do or not to do something.

There are four basic types of talks: a talk to inform; a talk to persuade; a talk to motivate; and, a talk to entertain. Because there are nuances attached to the various types which need to be considered, you must decide which type of talk you’re going to be giving before you start to write your speech.

Never attempt to give a talk to entertain unless the occasion clearly calls for it and you’re confident that you have enough interesting, original material to pull it off. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to make any of the other types of talk entertaining; but giving an entertaining talk, which you should always strive for, is totally different than giving a talk designed solely to entertain. Talks to entertain are appropriate at occasions such as retirement parties and wedding receptions. The best approach for the talk to entertain is to tell stories that involve you and other people in the audience, particularly the guest of honour.

A talk to inform is designed to do just that. It is a presentation the purpose of which is to have the audience leave the room knowing more about the subject than they did when they arrived. All talks, except talks to entertain, are, in the first instance, talks to inform.

A talk to persuade not only involves imparting information to the audience but also entails persuading them to your point of view. You have to persuade the audience that what you’re propounding is right and that they should agree with you. To raise the level of a talk from one to inform to one to persuade, you have to introduce unequivocal, easily understandable and compelling evidence to back up your points.

The next level, the talk to motivate the audience to do or not to do something, requires the addition of at least two more ingredients, and whenever possible, a third. You have to clearly tell the audience what it is you want them to do or not to do. You have to tell them in no uncertain terms what will happen if they do or don’t do what you’re suggesting: and, if it’s within your power to do so, you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do what you want them to do.

Regarding this third ingredient, suppose, for example, that you want an audience of 100 people to write to their elected representative on a particular issue. You should have 20 clipboards, each with a copy of the letter, at the back of the room with five ball point pens with each clip board. Tell the audience that all they need do is sign one of the letters and that you’ll look after mailing them. Explain that, because there are 20 copies available, there will be no lineups on the way out. Oh yes, also tell them that, after they sign the letter, they can keep the ball point pen-- and make it a good pen not a cheap one. People love to get something, even of modest value, for nothing.

The difference between a talk to persuade and a talk to motivate is that the talk to persuade may cause your audience to consider doing or not doing something, but the talk to motivate will inspire them to actually do or not do it.

In the simplest terms possible, talks inform, persuade, and motivate can be illustrated as follows.

A talk to inform: There is a flight to New York at 5:30 this evening with space available that you might want to book.

A talk to persuade: There is a flight to New York this evening at 5:30 and you should book it because it’s the only flight to New York this evening that has space available.

A talk to motivate: The only flight to New York this evening with space available leaves at 5:30 and you should be on it; otherwise you’ll have to stay here overnight at your own expense. So you need to leave for the airport right now. I’ve booked your tickets and I have a bus downstairs waiting for you.

If it’s a talk to inform, the audience has to leave knowing more about the topic than they did when they arrived. If it’s a talk to persuade, they have to be convinced that you are right. If it’s a motivational talk, they have to be inspired to act. If it’s a talk to entertain, they have to be entertained. Deciding what kid of talk you should give is the first step toward a successful presentation.