Presentations can be energising, interesting, entertaining ways of engaging an audience and giving them valuable information. We’ve probably all sat through one or two stand out sessions where we’ve walked away with a “wow” feeling and a spring in our steps.
Unfortunately, those are the “unicorns” – the exceptions to the rule. In general, we’re shifting in our seats uncomfortably, wishing we were somewhere else, and hoping for it all to end. And then, there’s another slide of figures and another 20 minutes of painful explanation.
It’s sad, but true. Most speakers miss the mark when it comes to keeping the audience’s attention. So how can you turn your next presentation into a roaring success, rather than a tedious waste of time?
1. Remember your job
First things first, your job is to communicate an idea and give your audience something valuable to take away. When preparing, you should continually ask the question; “How is this part of my presentation giving value to people?”
This will help you stay on track and ensure that what you are talking about is relevant, valuable, and concise.
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2. Know your audience
It doesn’t matter how brilliant, funny or intelligent your presentation is, if you pitch it too high or too low, your audience will be bored. If it’s too hard for them to understand they will disengage and start thinking about all the fun things they want to do at the weekend. If it’s too easy, it’s almost worse – they’ll feel patronised and embarrassed. You might even see some people leaving the auditorium.
This video from Wired is an excellent demonstration of how to pitch an idea to the audience in front of you. Here you can see Bettina Warburg explaining blockchain to five different people; a child, a teenager, a college student, a graduate student, and an expert.
She never loses their attention, she asks challenging questions, and she explains things in a way that each person understands.
3. Give people a reason to care
Early on in your presentation, you need to show why this is relevant and valuable. Explain your thesis and argument or outline what people will come away with.
Without this knowledge, your audience might feel lost, or concerned it is not for them. At the same time, you can explain your expertise and why you are in a position to give this talk. This gives you the social proof you need. Just don’t overdo it; no-one wants to listen to someone who is boasting about themselves.
4. Think about visuals
Slide after slide of boring stats and reams of text…you’ll hypnotise your audience, and not in a good way. Though many corporate presentations have strict rules about colour, logos and branding, there should be nothing stopping you from using compelling images.
Stock photos are generally dull (so avoid them), but you can find dynamic visual aids on free websites like Pixabay and . Just make sure they are relevant to your points and don’t distract the audience from what you are saying.
5. Make an impression
Science says you only have a few seconds to make an impression – and that impression will stay with your audience for the duration of your talk. So make sure you dress well and walk on stage confidently, smile, and be aware of your body language – especially what you are doing with your hands. Use big strong gestures, and try not to touch your face too much because it will make you look nervous.
Practise in front of a camera (just set up your mobile phone) or ask people to watch you rehearse. That way you can see how you look and how you can improve your overall image.
6. Be varied
If you don’t vary the way you speak during a presentation, you can begin to sound monotonous. This is a problem because you will start to bore your audience, even if what you are saying is extremely interesting.
Again, practise in front of people or on video and listen to how you vary your voice, your volume and tone. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate a little. On stage, or in the boardroom you have to be a little larger than life!
7. Interaction is key
We’ve spoken a lot about your audience and how they will perceive you. What we haven’t mentioned yet is that they are not simply receiving a message – they can be an active part of things too.
Plan interactive moments into your presentations. Ask them questions, get feedback during your talk, or even get them to talk to the person sitting next to them. This is especially important in long presentations, as it will change the atmosphere and re-engage tired brains.
8. Expect the unexpected
Simply put, you need to prepare for questions. You’re already an expert in your area, so it can be hard to decide what people will want to know. Ask your friends or colleagues to write a list of questions they want to know beforehand, so you can prepare your answers. It will help you avoid feeling lost or unsure during your presentation.
9. Know yourself
Just as important as knowing your audience, it’s important to know yourself. How do you feel speaking in public? What happens when you get nervous? Some people get a dry mouth, others get sweaty, and some might completely forget everything they were going to say.
Don’t panic! If that sounds like you, just be aware of what can happen. Take a spare shirt if you feel you need to change, have a bottle of water by your side, and carry notes, if you think you will need to jog your memory.
Practising in front of other people will also really help you feel more at ease. It’s you best way to iron out the kinks and really feel you know what you are talking about too.
Finally, good luck! Remember your audience is there to listen to you. They care about what you have to say. Rather than looking out onto a sea of strangers, think of them as people you can help with the hard earned knowledge you have. Work through these points, develop an engaging valuable presentation and your audience will walk away with that “wow” feeling you were hoping for.