What great presenters never forget

We can all remember being bored during class in school. We doodled, prayed for time to speed up and for the bell to release us from the tedium. Little did we know that these feats of endurance prepared us for sitting through many presentations in boardrooms (bored-rooms!) and conference halls.

If you find yourself tasked with delivering a presentation, here are five tips to ensure you don’t sap the energy from even the most enthusiastic audiences.

You’re competing for attention

Today’s presenters, unlike the teachers of the past, compete with the mobile phone perched in each audience member’s lap. Without an engaging opening, we give the audience permission to switch off to what we are saying and to switch on their screens. As presenters we have to earn their attention.

An engaging opening is essential. It might be a well-worded question, a surprising fact or a story that humanises the theme of your presentation. If it’s appropriate and comes naturally to you, a little humour helps the audience to settle in. Presenting is not just sharing facts, it’s transferring knowledge. To do this means contemplating your audience engagement strategy in advance.

Know the key takeaway

As presenters we must know the essence of our talk, the one thing we want the audience to take away; the fact we want them to remember, the question to ponder, the next step to take. Audiences can only consume a limited about of information, we are lucky if they remember two or three things. Our main theme should be capable of being summarised in a single sentence. As the saying goes ‘if you can’t explain it simple, you don’t understand it well enough.’

Your delivery must add value

We might read to our children at night to help them nod off, but because it is probably safe to assume that the audience knows how to read, we don’t have to read our slides aloud to them. Similarly, audiences do not like being preached to. It’s not just what’s being shared from the top of the room, but how it’s being shared. As presenters our job is to add value to the content, either through our method of delivery, our subject matter expertise, or ability to positivity influence an audience. Great presenters have honed all three.

Mouth is for words, slides are for pictures

We can practice saying our presentation aloud, not to sound canned or rehearsed, but human. To keep our delivery genuine, avoid jargon, clichés, hackneyed jokes and overused quotes. Don’t waste the audience’s time, telling them what they already know. There is a performance element to presenting, so be brave enough to step from behind the lectern, the more the audience can see you, the more they can relate to you. Energy and movement will transfer to the audience, but don’t wander around aimlessly. Slides should be visually interesting, amplifying the themes of the presentation, but not distracting from it.

Know your timings

There’s a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that says ‘I wrote him a long letter because I didn’t have time to write him a short one.’ The same principle is true of presentations. It’s why TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes. Imagine being so polished and succinct that you finish ahead of schedule rather than the typical presenter who is cramming everything in, because they have not rehearsed timings, or fear of running out of something to say. The audience will thank you, it’s like being let out of class early.

If you are interested in honing your presentation skills and would like to find out more about my presentation skills courses please get in touch. I’ll also send you a Presentation Skills Tip sheet containing over 30 tips to help you enhance your presentations.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also find one of my most popular podcast episodes ‘How to present confidently to senior managers’ to be a worthwhile listen.




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