They’ve come to hear you speak. Their time, like yours is precious. There were many other things they could have been doing. Instead, they chose to attend your presentation. In reality, they’ve entrusted you with their time – a precious gift. You therefore owe it to your audience to make it interesting, and to give them the stuff they came to hear.
So how do you grab your audience by the scruff of their necks right from the start and keep them riveted to your message through to the finish? You certainly need to attend to a lot more than just your content. You need to be purposeful in your preparation. By asking yourself these 14 key questions, at preparation stage, you will set yourself up for a presentation that is sure to keep them riveted:
1. Why did they come? They came to receive value specifically related to the topic you were billed to speak or present on. As a result of what you say, the best result for everyone is that something should happen. If nothing happens as a result of your presentation, then why did you bother? Be absolutely clear about your central message.
2. What did they come to hear? Whether it was the talk title, topic or product they came to hear about – that’s what you should give them. Not a whole lot of other stuff. The other stuff we mistake for value add is merely clutter. Go deep into the stuff they came to hear. 85% or more of your content should be only that.
3. How will they remember what I said? If you can link specific concepts or points to real life scenarios or stories, your point is more likely to be memorable. After 24 hours most people will only remember 1 or 2 key points anyway. Link your stories to those key points, and make sure that they remember the important stuff.
4. Is structure important? The structure of your content is more than important – it’s vital! Start by telling them what you’re going to be speaking about – it’s called setting up the topic. That way, they know they’re at the right place! Maintain a thread of logical order throughout your presentation so that it makes sense and is easy to follow. Wrap up neatly at the end. If you’re going to allow a question time, before the wrap up is the time for it. If you have the opportunity to record your rehearsal, play it back to ascertain whether the flow works. If you’re not sure, ask someone else’s opinion.
5. Are last minute changes advisable? Introducing a snippit of current news or up to date information immediately grabs people’s attention and can be a great addition to your presentation. Up to date information can be added a day or 2 before, and a news snippet can be added on the day. But avoid making far reaching changes a few hours before. You may confuse yourself completely!
6. Must I use humour? Light heartedness is preferable to a string of pre-planned jokes which can fall flat if not delivered properly. Humour gets people into a receptive mood and engages them – and spontaneous humour is easily the most effective. It is therefore important to get yourself into a relaxed, up-beat state of mind prior to your presentation.
7. Should I interact with the audience? Audience interaction is on the increase as the Silent and Boomer generations give way to the X & Y generations now taking over the marketplace, social space and audiences. These younger generations now expect interaction. In the future speakers or presenters who fail to interact with their audiences will become largely obsolete and irrelevant. The most common way of interaction is via questions. The presenter can ask the audience questions or invite questions from the audience. Increasingly, presenters will get the audience to interact with props, electronic gadgets and even television screens. If you develop the ability to respond to reactions or chirps from the audience, you will heighten audience interest and engagement. This also indicates that you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself.
8. Do I bang on too much? Waffling on and pontificating about the same thing is the quickest way to shift audience attention to the nearest mobile device within reach. Keep your points crisp, illustrate using stories or examples, then move on. It’s far more powerful to return to a key point to re-emphasize, several times if warranted, rather than going on continuously.
9. What kind of language do I use? In order to reach as many audience members as possible, simple is always the best. Except in rare cases, the vast majority of audience members use a vocabulary of less than 1500 words and simply won’t understand words outside of that range. It follows that too many “big” words will result in you losing that person completely. It’s important to note that the possibility exists that that was the very person you most wanted to influence!
10. What techniques can I use? My friend and fellow author Alan Stevens refers to the “rule of three” which creates a strong impact. For example you may say “regardless of wind, rain or blizzard, we will deliver on time”. In a political context, try this. “They have no clothes, they have no food, nor do they have shelter, but they are our countrymen and it is our duty to help them.” You can always slip one of those in somewhere. Another one is the technique of anaphora, where one repeats a phrase in a speech. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” is a great example of this.
11. Is tone of voice important? People may be attracted to attend a presentation to learn, but once they’re there, they also like to be entertained and informed. A warm, friendly, conversational tone will keep them engaged far better than preaching. Listen to a recording of your speech to help eliminate voice tone problems such as monotony or speaking too fast.
12. What about the visual aspect? A person can only focus their eyes on one place at a time. Preferably, that should be on you. Slide shows, unless used professionally and sparingly can be distracting and cause confusion. When planning your presentation be absolutely sure where you want the audience to be looking at any given time. Keeping them looking where they should be looking makes the presentation much more interesting for them. If various people are looking at different things at the same time, you have not got their focused attention. Distraction is therefore a major reason for presentation disconnect.
13. If I smile frequently will I be taken seriously? Paradoxically, yes you will! Friendliness makes you appear more charismatic and authentic and ensure that people warm to you. The smile is the big persuasion tool that wins over your audience. Use it lavishly, but at the appropriate times. Your default expression should be one of warmth.
14. Where should I be looking? You should not be looking at slides, the carpet, your shoes or the ceiling. Making eye contact with your audience creates a strong connection and makes your presentation much more engaging – and interesting. For a larger audience, looking at sections of the audience will do the trick.
There’s just one more thing, of course. You need to go through it a few times beforehand. That’s the bit we usually forget. Preparation without rehearsal is like an unserviced vehicle – it just doesn’t go very well. You only need a few failures for your confidence to plummet, so don’t do that to yourself. Make the time to rehearse. That means your other prep should be completed well in advance.
There is nothing like a well planned, riveting presentation to ensure that you get the result you planned.