Formal vs. Informal Presentation Style

Formal vs. Informal Presentation Style

Presentations are a necessary part of business and there will be times when you will be asked to present about a topic.  Sometimes you are given time to prepare a structured presentation and other times you might be asked to give an impromptu presentation with little or no time to prepare.  Each of these presentation styles requires good communication skills but there are unique expectations when delivering a formal vs. and informal presentation. Here is a guide to both.

Formal Presentations

A presentation is considered formal when you have been asked to share ideas with an individual or group and you have been given time to prepare.  Formal presentations require a very different approach than presenting to your team during a weekly meeting.

-Set clearly defined goals.

In order to deliver a successful formal presentation you need to be very clear about what it is you want your audience to learn.  You need to write down the main points of your presentation and use this as a guide for your outline.

-Know your audience.

Are you presenting in front of 100 people or are you presenting in front of a smaller group?  Are you presenting to managers and executives or are you presenting to clients? Are you presenting to people who are familiar with the topic?  You must know your audience so you can tailor your presentation to meet their needs. You might need to include a hand-out for your audience or perhaps an infographic that summarizes your key points.

-Create an outline.

When you are giving a formal presentation it is expected that you will be well-prepared and well-rehearsed.  You have been given time to prepare so your audience is expecting a well-structured presentation. Therefore, you need to create an outline of your presentation so you will have an order in which to follow.

-Use visuals.

Again, when you have been given time to prepare it is expected that you will have some visuals for your audience.  Formal presentations usually include a PowerPoint or slideshow of some sort so your audience can follow along.

-Include questions for audience interaction.

A formal presentation should engage the audience.  You can end a formal presentation with a Q&A session or you can ask questions along the way after each point.  

-Dress the part.

Just as the name implies, a formal presentation requires more formal dress.  Men might wear a suit or tie while women should wear a nice dress or business suit. You should also always stand during a formal presentation.

Informal Presentations

It is fairly common for business meetings to include impromptu presentations.  These types of presentations are usually prepared in a short amount of time and do not require the same organizational methods as a formal presentation.

-Prepare your material.

Your boss might give you just a few hours to put together an informal presentation but you still need to spend some time jotting down your main points and a few notes about the topic.  While you don’t necessarily need to write a complete outline, you need to have a clear understanding of your main points.

-Understand the purpose.  

The purpose of formal presentations is to provide information to a group of people with a few questions at the end.  Informal presentations, however, are about providing information, listening to the reaction, and generating a discussion.  It becomes more like a conversation and the audience will be more involved.

-Keep visual aids to a minimum.

If you have time to prepare a quick slideshow it certainly wouldn’t hurt, but informal presentations do not require lengthy visuals.  It would even be acceptable to write on a whiteboard during an informal presentation as opposed to creating a formal slideshow.

-Consider a hand-out.

Formal presentations usually include a slideshow that audience members can access for reference.  However, since you don’t have as much time to prepare such a formal slideshow, it is usually effective to use a hand-out of some sort in an informal presentation.

-Interact with your audience.  

Formal presentations are more about the audience listening while informal presentations are more about interacting with the audience.  It is perfectly acceptable to generate discussion throughout an informal presentation and allow the audience to provide input and feedback.

-You can dress more casually.

Typically informal presentations do not require the suit and tie that formal presentations do.  You still want to look professional, but men can ditch the tie and women can wear a more casual dress.  It would also be acceptable to sit or stand during an informal presentation.