Outlining the differences between presentations and speeches is important for speakers and audiences. It allows the speaker to understand what’s required of them, the preparation, the tone of delivery, and most importantly – the audience’s expectations. Although simple semantics, attending a presentation is quite different to seeing a speech.
In a nutshell, presentations are more informative while speeches are more emotive. Presentations are generally given to inform audiences, drive their action, or change their way of thinking. Speeches are usually less specific in purpose or intent, thereby requiring more emotional communication and understanding.
Regardless, both presentations and speeches are elements of public speaking that require you to speak clearly, prepare prior, and handle the logistical details of audience management, such content writing, delivery tone, and time keeping. Let’s take a look at the differences between speeches and presentation in detail to help clarify the roles of speaker and audiences.
Presentation design is what we do, what we write about here. Presentations are usually given in professional settings and are more targeted towards specific demographics, since a speaker presents to colleagues, managers, clients, peers, or educators (either students or teachers).
Presentations can often be less formal than speeches – given in a more conversational tone. Within a professional context, presentations are generally given by a lower ranked employee – your managing director may give a speech at a company conference, but they’re giving a presentation when addressing the company’s executive suite.
In terms of content, presentations are more detail oriented and informative compared to speeches. Presentations generally focus on a specific topic and then provide the most pertinent information to audiences in a way that’s engaging – helping audience’s heed a certain call to action or change their way of thinking.
Consequently, presentations will use visual aids such as PowerPoint slides, props, and other resources to help convey the information more clearly. When presenting technical information or complex data, reciting facts and figures will always be far less impactful than showing them.
Presentations are generally longer than speeches, spanning anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour-plus. As there is usually more content to cover, presentation preparation is more laborious and time consuming compared to speeches – since writing, design, and the length of the presentation all add to the required preparation.
As a result, presentations will require more preparation, but are often assigned to experts within the specified topic. Industry leaders are regularly asked to present insights from their field of study, but anyone can wind up giving a speech at an event.
While there are some exceptions here (and to all the points outlined here), presentations’ informality means audiences will often be encouraged to ask questions – either during the presentation or at an allocated time. This is a critical distinction since people who interrupt speeches can be jeered, booed, or ejected.
As mentioned previously, speeches are usually more formal and can be given in a wide range of contexts from professional to casual. We see them at weddings, political rallies, conferences, and even as simple toasts (or comedy roasts). For example, a keynote speech is a semi-formal talk given by an important industry figure to usually open or close a conference event.
Speeches more formal structure combined with its less rigid setting means they’re often not the end in themselves – acting as part of a larger event, such as a wedding ceremony, conference, or rally. This also means speeches tend to be shorter than presentations, spanning from seconds long to around 10-15 minutes (with some exceptions).
The anticipated length of impacts on how audiences engage with speeches. The audience for a presentation is much more likely to maintain attention for an hour or more compared to an audience sitting to speeches during at a ceremony.
Speeches generally don’t use visual aids and thereby won’t require as much preparation beforehand when compared to presentations. Since speeches are more about emotional response than informing audiences, the key is to speak sincerely while entertaining those in attendance. There’s not much point nosediving into technical details during a speech – that’s not why the audiences are there.
Most people will give more presentations than speeches in their lives, since most educational and professional settings require people to present to audiences. However, as speeches are often reserved for more intimate and personal occasions, they can be much more daunting to prepare and deliver. As a writer, I would much rather prepare for a dozen different presentations than prepare a heartfelt speech for friends and family – too much pressure.
That said, audiences attending a speech generally want the speaker to excel, not only for their entertainment, but because most speech settings are determined by some level of familiarity. Speeches are there to evoke emotional response, which can often require some personal connection – chances are if you’re hearing a speech, you wanted to be at the event you’re attending, and you have some shared commonality with the person speaking. As a result, audiences during speeches can be more forgiving, so long as you keep it brief (especially when compared to a presentation).
Hybrid Presentation Speeches
These differences outlined are not set in stone as there will always be exceptions and hybridisations between the two types of public speaking. The various ways we talk to one another and address audiences has changed the very nature of presentation and speech giving.
For example, TED Talks are a hybrid between presentation and speech. Using the definitions that we’ve just explored; TED Talks are speeches since they are generally memorised and don’t really encourage audience participation.
TED Talks are usually designed to be informative, which makes them more like a presentation or lecture than a speech. However, their typical length is 15-20 minutes, which is rather short for a presentation and quite long for a speech.
On the other hand, stand up comedy can be a couple minutes to an hour-plus in length – like a presentation. However, stand-up generally doesn’t use visual aids nor does it usually encourage audience participation (heckling). The critical thing to remember is that while these definitions still leave room for interpretation, audiences for each type of public speaking will differ and those speaking must remain conscious of that when preparing to give their talk.