Too many good ideas get lost in the delivery of boring, run-of-the-mill presentations. Adding a bit of fizz and ginger can spice up your presentations.
While the way you speak or how you stand in a presentation may not seem to matter at first, it can mean the difference between an engaging presentation and a forgettable one.
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1. Tell a story
Audiences of all ages and backgrounds respond to stories. They’re a familiar, consumable medium of communication that makes expressing a point (or dressing up a dull presentation) much easier.
The trick is to use a story that is short, entertaining and relevant. Economist and attorney Robert Litan does this well. He uses stories to introduce and explain concepts, establish context and to support his arguments.
You can also use stories as a way into data-heavy presentations. Supplement charts, graphs and tables with success stories about how the data was generated or used.
2. Use your environment
A good presenter doesn’t hide behind a lectern or a screen.
Interacting with your environment by moving around the room, using empty space and varying the distance between you and your audience will spice up your presentation and keep people engaged.
Tony Robbins, life coach and leadership expert, is a good example of how to interact with your environment. Notice how he relaxes his body and interacts with audience members. By pacing the room he keeps the focus on his movements and his words.
3. Reference current events and pop culture
The best presenters are well read and up to speed on the news of the day. Relating your topic to recent events that are front-of-mind for your audience will make your information topical and relatable.
Referencing pop culture in particular is an effective way to inject humour into your presentation, which will keep your audience engaged. Barack Obama has been known to do this, and Chinese President Xi Jingping has done it too.
The key is to keep your references professional and relevant. Always make sure that you can relate the information back to your presentation material.
4. Lose the PowerPoint
If possible, don’t use PowerPoint in your presentation. Unless you happen to be a graphic designer, creating an engaging PowerPoint is time consuming and rarely done well. This is especially true if your content is data-heavy.
Skip the trouble and focus on delivering your presentation without a visual aid. Your audience won’t miss the black-on-white bullet point slides, and you won’t find yourself accidentally talking to a screen instead of others in the room.
If you need to refer to talking points or prompts, keep them on a smartphone or tablet that you can use as a prop. Offer to send your notes to your listeners after the presentation is over, so they can refer to them later.
5. Simplify visual aids
If you must use a PowerPoint presentation, remember that less is more.
Observe the 10/20/30 rule as explained by Guy Kawasaki:
- Ten slides. This is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation, because the average person can’t comprehend more than ten concepts in a session.
- Twenty minutes. Keep talking time to a maximum of twenty minutes. Use any remaining time for discussion and questions.
- Thirty-point font. With a larger font size you reduce the amount of text on a slide. This ensures you’re communicating only essential information, and it’s easier for your audience to absorb.
6. Speak fast and slow
Your listeners can only hear and comprehend so much at a time.
Speaking at a steady, deliberate pace that is easy to follow will help you be more persuasive and win your audience over. Research shows that a slower pace will also deepen your listener’s respect for you, and have a calming effect on the atmosphere of the room.
It’s important, however, to not speak too slowly. Avoid sounding monotonous by varying your pace and speaking fast and slow, pausing frequently to let information sink in.
7. Use colour
If you’re using a PowerPoint or other visual aid, use a colour scheme that is professional and engaging.
Colours carry connotations and can be a powerful psychological tool when presenting. The colour blue, for example, is associated with calm and safety while green is associated with success and activity.
Use colours to evoke particular feelings and responses from your listeners, but don’t overdo it. Keep it simple, avoid contrasting colours and think carefully about which colours you’ll use.
8. Encourage audience interaction
You can easily spice up a presentation by encouraging your audience to interact with you and with each other.
There are a number of ways to do this. Simple tactics, like pacing and making eye contact, are an effective way to interact with audience members. Posing questions to the audience or stimulating a group discussion also work well.
If appropriate, have your listeners complete short activities or give them time to pose questions to you and the group at large. A presentation that involves all people – presenter and listeners included – will be more engaging and memorable.
9. Warm up your voice
Speaking clearly and in a conversational way requires you to engage the muscles used for speech: the larynx, lips and vocal chords.
Humming scales and buzzing your lips are two ways to warm up your voice before giving a presentation. With a proper warm up, you’ll be able to utilise the full range of your voice, vary your pace and tone and avoid sounding monotonous.
Naturally, one of the best ways to give a good presentation is to practice.
You need to train yourself to speak slowly, interact with your environment and present with confidence. Research other presentation techniques and tools and incorporate them into your own performance, or consider training with your colleagues and communications specialists.