(I published this as a LinkedIn Pulse post a few months ago. But I’m re-publishing it here on The Oomph! Blog to lead off as the first post on our newly re-designed website. These are some valuable tips for dynamic presentations. If you missed this the first time on LinkedIn Pulse, read on!)
From pitches to lunch ‘n learns, these strategies can take your presentations to engaging new heights
Have you ever attended a presentation, lunch ’n learn, workshop or professional development seminar on a topic that was really interesting and valuable for you to learn about, but persevering through the session was a monumental task because the speaker was…um… not the right person (read, boring)? Worse yet, have you ever been rated as a boring presenter in a post-presentation audience feedback survey? (I hope you haven’t.)
There’s nothing worse for a presenter than losing your audience’s interest. If people are yawning, texting, staring blankly at the ceiling or checking their social media accounts before you’re two minutes in to a 30- or 45-minute presentation, you have a problem. If they’re tweeting, that’s even worse. They’re probably tweeting about how awful your presentation is. Especially if all you’re doing is regurgitating what’s on a series of PowerPoint slides they can see for themselves.
On the other hand, there’s a really rewarding feeling that happens when you finish your presentation and people stop you to say, “I really enjoyed your talk,” or “That was fantastic and it’s really going to help me. Thank you so much.” I know. Because it has happened to me more than once.
If you’re giving any kind of talk you have to engage your audience off the top. Here are six ways to do that. They can help you give more dynamic talks and be a sought-out subject matter expert…which can help you grow your business.
Tell a story.
Engage your audience in the first 30 seconds.
Like I’m doing right now. A few years ago, I put together a presentation titled, Living with Anxiety Disorder: It’s Nothing to Worry About for the annual conference of the London-Middlesex chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The evening before my presentation had been unbelievably stressful. (At the time my daughter, then a teenager, was doing some modelling.) I’d had to run my daughter to one audition in one part of the city and then to a fashion show in a different area of the city. We’d gone home from the audition thinking we were done for the evening.
Just as I was raising a forkful of much-needed food to my mouth, we suddenly found out she was supposed to be at a west-downtown hotel for a Toronto Fashion Week (now defunct, as of July) show. This was previously unknown because her agent forgot to tell my daughter she’d made the show, along with the girls who’d left the aforementioned audition session early. I dropped everything – literally – and we dashed. We were out until almost midnight. And I had to leave by six a.m. to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to London, Ont., from Toronto in time for my talk.
I was still wound up like a yo-yo even as the facilitator introduced me to the audience. What did I do? Spend the first couple of minutes recounting the previous evening’s adventures. Passionately and excitedly. People laughed. Some of them until their eyes watered. They looked me in the eye. I looked them in the eye. I had them engaged. Find a personal story related to your presentation, and lead off with it. Engage your audience within the first minute. You’ll set the tone and pace of your entire presentation.
Now let’s face it. Not everyone is totally comfortable talking in front of an audience – and that can really show. (Practising beforehand will help – more on that later.) To engage your audience and hold their interest, you have to be dynamic. That means not just standing at the front of the room or at the podium. Walk back and forth. Gesticulate with your hands and arms. Point. Step closer to the audience occasionally. Perhaps most important – make eye contact with people as you talk.
All these actions charge your presentations with dynamic electricity that keeps the audience glued to their seats with all eyes on you, not their smartphones. Steve Jobs wasn’t the nicest person in the world, and he could be very abrasive and difficult with the people around him at Apple. But he was a masterful presenter at every product launch when he spoke. He knew how to bring audiences to their feet with standing ovations – for him and the latest Apple innovation.
Make slides your tool, not your presentation.
I’ve attended presentations at which the speaker essentially did nothing more than reiterate every single point on his PowerPoint slides, or read the slide notes word for word. My advice here is simple: don’t do this. Because you’ll lose your audience quickly. If you need slides to support your presentation, then that’s all they should do.
Here are the general working guidelines for effective PowerPoints:
- no more than four to five bullet points per slide in at least 18-point type
- no more than seven words per bullet point (the fewer the better)
- one slide per minute of your presentation
- graphics if necessary, but not necessarily graphics
Talk to the main points, expand on them. Work in some anecdotes along with “just the facts.” Talk to the audience. Look at the audience, not the slides. If you’re not comfortable “talking off the top of your head,” it’s okay to have a handful of index cards with some reminder notes jotted on them. If necessary, you can emphasize certain points on your slides with your voice and your body language. You’ll come across not only as a subject matter expert, but also as a dynamic one.
Full disclosure here: I often don’t do this. That’s because I love speaking to audiences and engaging with people. I’m comfortable in front of an audience; I’m comfortable just jumping in and getting going. When you’ve invested a lot of time and effort putting together a presentation, you should inherently know your material inside out already. But spending some additional time practising your presentation is valuable. Listen to yourself. If you hear yourself talking too quickly, you can adjust your speaking pace. You can practice the inflexion in your voice at the right points in your talk. You may suddenly think of anecdotes or other information you hadn’t thought of before, that you can or need to include when you talk to your slides in front of the audience. Rehearsing also gives you the opportunity to time your talk. Make sure you’re within the allotted time you have. If necessary, tweak your presentation for both length and content. Gesticulate as you rehearse in front of your computer screen, just like you will when you give your actual talk. You don’t want to stumble in front of the audience. Rehearsing will help you make sure you come across as a confident speaker – even if you really aren’t. Appear and sound confident, and your audience will be engaged.
Gauge the audience continuously.
Keep your eyes on the audience constantly as you move through your presentation. It’s called, “reading the room.” You’ll know whether people are engaged; you’ll know whether you should pick up or slow the pace; you’ll know which points you should emphasize a bit more and which ones you can almost gloss over.
Leave time for questions at the end.
You’re the subject-matter expert. If you’ve really engaged the audience throughout your presentation, some of them are bound to have questions or comments about certain points you made. So make sure the length of your presentation includes leaving five or 10 minutes for questions and comments at the end of your talk. Don’t end with an abrupt “thank you” and immediately exit stage left.
A great way to lead into this question-and-answer session is by asking a question, with something like, “I’d like to thank you for taking the time to attend today. Is there perhaps anything I haven’t covered here that you’d like to know more about?”
If you’ve done things right, you may very well find there are more questions than time to answer them. And that’s a good thing. This is when you can offer to answer additional questions by email or phone. Collect people’s business cards, and jot down their questions on the backs as a reminder. This not only shows you’re interested in their needs, it helps you build your database of potential clients.
Whatever kind of presentations you do – whether regularly or only on occasion, you don’t have to be a dynamo. But you need to be dynamic and engaging. That’s because a powerful presentation can lead to new business or other new opportunities. Following these six strategies will help you make sure you deliver winning presentations every time.