What’s the difference between a speech and a presentation?

Some people make a great deal out of two words — ‘speech’ and ‘presentation’.  I don’t give speeches, they may say, only presentations.  A speech is a big deal.  A presentation is what I do in front of my team, or the Board, or some sales prospects.

OK, if that distinction helps you feel less nervous for that thing that you have to give next Wednesday, fair enough.  But it’s a false disctinction.

The essential principles of speech-giving and presentation-giving are the same.  Maybe, in common parlance, speeches are more formal, or to larger audiences, or more important, than presentations.  But each is an opportunity to change the world.  Each involves putting yourself in front of some people and holding forth.  Each should be taken very seriously.

There may be a further implication in some business circles that a presentation involves Power Point, and a speech, especially a keynote speech, typically will not.  But that’s to make a distinction where there is none.  Most people use Power Point badly, as a crutch, or speaker notes, not as illustrations to help the audience get a few key points of the talk.  Using Power Point badly will mar both speeches and presentations. 

So don’t hide behind Power Point, and don’t hide behind the terminology.  A presentation is a speech, and worth taking seriously.  Prepare it thoughtfully, rehearse it fully, and give it with passion. The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.   


  1. Nick Morgan says

    Thanks for your comment, John. But I think speeches should do precisely what you want to reserve for presentations: BOTH change the world AND involve audiences.

  2. John Patten says

    Hate to disagree with you, Nick, but speeches and presentations are VERY different. Speeches typically do not illicit questions, interaction, engagement (beyond listening and responding with cheers, applause or jeers). Great presentations (while I agree can “change the world”) get the audience engaged and involved. Better yet, interacting during the presentation. That’s when you know they are listening and caring about what you have to share.

    This is no small point. The “Gettysburg Address” is a speech. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” was a speech. Both “changed the world”. Presentations can do the same thing but they are NOT the same thing. Speeches are about speaking to someone/audience while presentations draw the audience in to become PART OF the presentation.

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