Are you able to keep your audience engaged throughout your presentations? In this article, learn about the top 5 presentation tips to help make your audience remember you.
Why are presentation skills so valuable?
At some point in your life, you will have presented something to someone or a group of people.
That could’ve been in an informal and unprepared setting, such as presenting your recent holiday experience to friends over dinner. Or, it may have been in a formal and planned setting, such as presenting your latest digital transformation strategy to a large group of customers in a conference room.
Regardless of the setting, topic or audience, presenting while holding the attention of the audience throughout is a sought-after skill.
Strong presentation skills increase credibility and productivity
Prezi carried out a survey a number of years ago targeted at employed Americans who gave presentations, to gauge the importance of having presentation skills. The results dictated that 70% felt presentation skills are critical to their success in the workplace.
Furthermore, by presenting a topic effectively, you’re improving productivity. If the presentation is concise, then you’ve maximized the time spent on it. If the communication is clear and well-understood, then repeat discussions, questions and answers are unnecessary.
Presentation tip #1: start by grabbing attention
If you capture your audiences attention from the get-go, you’re in prime position to ensure they’re not going to switch off any time soon.
This is the perfect way to start. Before you get into the detail of what you’re there to talk about, give them something unexpected. Be clever and have it relate to the audience or even share a light-hearted (safe!) joke.
It’s one of the presentation tips that gives you the upper hand in terms of knowing people are listening to you. Take advantage of it and be creative.
The average presenter likes to reads lists
Too often, the average presenter goes straight to a title slide, and reads out the words on it. They might throw in a few “non-slide” comments, but otherwise it’s like reading bullet points together as a group.
This makes it incredibly difficult to keep listeners interested for more than a few minutes. Minds start to wander and most people stop paying attention.
Example of capturing the attention of your audience
Have a holding slide with an image that sparks curiosity. Don’t make it obviously relate to the topic. Instead, relate it upon introducing it.
If you’re presenting the expansion of a gourmet food delivery business, start with an image of a cheetah and then put emphasis on the fact that “speedy delivery” is a key offering.
Presentation tip #2: limit text and focus on visuals
Rather than ask “have you seen…”, I’ll ask “how many have you seen…”. So, how many presentations have you seen or attended that are flooded with text, tables, and long lists of information? I’d be amazed if your answer is none.
Seth Godin famously stated to never use more than six words on a slide as one of his presentation tips. I don’t believe you need to limit yourself so aggressively, but the principle here is that too much textual information on a slide is destructive.
For the vast majority of people (myself included), it’s an unpleasant experience to sit in on a text-heavy presentation. When a person does, it’s challenging for them stay engaged.
More worryingly, it’s annoying because there is so much to concentrate on simultaneously. Before they know it, the next slide is up and they caught only 10% of the information from the previous slide.
A visual presentation lets the audience listen attentively
The more visual you make your slides (particularly with images like photos or illustrations), the more enticing it is to look at. While people are looking at your images, they can more easily interpret the words you’re saying at the same time.
What if your visuals are in the form of graphs or charts to show data? This is fine, but keep them as simple as possible. Clearly talk through one at a time while using a form of pointer device to show which visual you’re explaining.
For some people, it might not be worth spending the time to learn and build a visually appealing presentation. If that’s the case, then I’d suggest seeking support internally or externally by outsourcing the effort.
Example of presenting with more visuals vs. text
To plan and think more clearly from a visual perspective, I find it helps to first draft a list of bullet points on a slide that I want to speak to. Then I can sift through the list, gauging an image that’s able to summarise all of the points, or at the least relate to one of the key points.
If you’re presenting the structure of your global team to a group of new hires:
- First list all of the names, roles and locations of the people on your global team.
- Create a slide and input an image of the world map to fill it. Ideally the world map image is filled with one color that aligns to the theme style for consistency.
- Plot the list of team member names onto the world map image.
- If there are more than 10 team members to show, break it up across multiple slides. For example, by continent/region or area of expertise.
Presentation tip #3: take time to pause, regularly
I’m often told I speak too fast and need to slow down – it’s a frequent criticism I’ve faced. To this day, I still work hard to speak at a more reasonable pace. I’ve improved a lot over the years – speaking less quickly and pausing more regularly especially during presentations. It’s undoubtedly helped my messaging be better received.
Pausing frequently not only gives the audience time to process what you’re saying. It also gives you time to process what you are about to say next. Equally, it demonstrates to the audience that you’re in control and confident in your own ability to convey the message.
Check out the video below of Barrack Obama – arguably one of the most talented speakers in the world. Here, Obama takes long and frequent pauses during one of his most famous speeches.
Allow time for you and the audience to think
It’s a particularly effective strategy to deploy longer pauses before and/or after you express a key point. This can help you focus more on certain statements, make eye contact with more of the audience, and add layers of drama to your presentation.
It’s one of the presentation tips that’s easily overlooked, but it makes a real difference to how you’re perceived.
Example of taking pauses between sentences
If you’re presenting a go-to-market strategy for a new service offering:
- “…this will also allow us to build out our services in the UK,” [1 second pause] “and we can then connect more closely with our clients in the same timezone.” [1-2 second pause]
- “By being available in the same timezone, we’ll be ready to go all in on building more services locally into France Trading Company X”. [2 second pause]
- “This is just the tip of the European market opportunity for us, and by year 1, we’ll have increased our revenue by 5%.” [2 second pause]
Presentation tip #4: structure and tell it like a story
Research shows we love stories. With the right amount of preparation, you can neatly talk to your presentation as if you’re telling a story.
Try to ensure the story is relatable and provokes thought. This ensures a strong likelihood that your listeners will “want” to listen instead of “need” to. It gives you a subtle yet powerful ability to be more persuasive and convince the audience to support your points.
Don’t let the story drag out though – keep it as short as possible – perhaps number 6 in its own right on the list of top presentation tips! Aim for brevity, and include detail where appropriate to enable the story to resonate with the audience.
Stories are told in many different ways
A presentation that immediately dips into business data and figures without relatable and humanized content, is one that most people dislike tuning into.
There are several different practices and approaches to telling a story through a business presentation. It’s important to adopt one or more of them in a way that logically makes sense.
Example of telling a story
Adopting the mountain style to tell a story is more often related to TV dramas, but it can also be highly effective in a business setting too. Start by setting the scene and building interest, then discuss the challenges, ending climactically on a positive note.
If you’re presenting a new accounting product release to your senior management team:
- Set the scene by providing facts demonstrating the humanized problems with your current accounting software or practices – try to enable the audience to relate to them.
- Talk about how certain decisions were made to evolve the functionality, and the effort the team put in to realize the new features.
- End with an image or silent video clip of a screenshot showing the updated tool, and summarise positively on what the benefits are for the accounting team and business over the next 12 months.
Presentation tip #5: watch and listen to yourself
This presentation tip forms part of preparing and practicing, obsessively. No matter how good a presenter is, there’s always be room for improvement if they haven’t practiced it enough.
Watching and listening to yourself allows you to see your presentation from a different perspective – the perspective of the audience.
Use a combination of practicing the presentation in front of a mirror, and recording the video and/or audio depending on the setting of the presentation (e.g. face-to-face, video or telephone conference). Have friends or colleagues help where needed.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
It’s often an uncomfortable experience to watch back your recordings the first few times. It’s crucial though because you’ll pinpoint parts of your speech that would otherwise not be possible to detect for improvement. For example, where it’s best to slow down, take longer pauses, ask questions, and add humour.
Don’t expect to prepare fully by only flicking through your slides on the screen 30 minutes before the meeting. If you do that, there’s a strong chance you won’t deliver a compelling presentation. Some people can do a good job without much practice, but they’ve very likely presented thousands of times in the past.
Example of watching and listening to yourself present
This is one of the easiest presentation tips to put into action immediately, however it requires dedication to stick to it. The goal is to perfect your delivery as best you can.
If you’re presenting the updated vendor compliance process via a video conference:
- Use a device such as a computer webcam and its software to record your video and audio. This allows you to practice and run through your presentation as many times as you need to, and simulate the real situation as best as possible. A smart phone with recording features is the best substitute device.
- Record, watch and listen, take notes and improve accordingly.
- Rinse and repeat, until you’re able to deliver a compelling presentation.
Mastering the top 5 presentation tips will significantly improve your presentation skills, subsequently boosting your productivity and professional profile.
What do you think? Share any other presentation tips that are in your top 5.