The purpose of your next presentation

What is the purpose of that company training? Or that next presentation you are giving to your colleagues? Or this blog post for that matter?

I’m an engineer by training and like many engineers, teachers and other professionals, I sometimes have this urge to tell people what I know. Perhaps to show off a bit. Or for some other obscure reason. The urge has decreased over the years but I can still feel it from time to time. Unfortunately doing a presentation during office hours just to tell people what you know is a waste of time. I suggest that the only valid reason for communication in a business setting is to change the behavior of your audience.

Have you changed your behavior yet?

Likewise, the purpose of training should be altered behavior. Good course evaluations are nice but if things stay the same after the training, then it is of no value. According to one of the pioneers in the area of learning organizations, David Garvin, learning is in fact the combination of knowledge and modified behavior [1]:

A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Very little is of course new under the sun but sometimes insights are forgotten. The purpose of the art of rhetoric is according to Wikipedia exactly to “move audiences to action with arguments” [2]. It should be done with ethos, pathos and logos.

Even if we realize that our goal is to impact the behavior of our audience, we may still lack the skills to do so. During my Swedish and American engineering training i managed to take exactly zero credit points of rhetoric. I didn’t get a proper training in it until the “rookie training” at McKinsey&Co (unsurprisingly it was rather logos-heavy). Perhaps we engineers are also by nature a little weak in the pathos department which doesn’t make things easier.

Rhetoric is a technique in the greater discipline of change management which I will return to in later posts.

So am I wasting time by using this virtual space to share my opinions and the odd piece of knowledge?


[1] David A. Garvin. Building a Learning Organization. HBR, July-August, 1993
[2] Rhetoric on Wikipedia

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