We’ve all sat in presentations where the lights are dimmed, the room is warm, the reader is droning on interminably. Uninteresting slides pass in succession across the screen.
In this situation, the audience is effectively asleep. They might not have their eyes closed or be snoring – but they might as well be. Their attention is elsewhere. All they’re thinking about is what to do when they get out of there.
Now, suppose the presenter came in and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, an asteroid is hurtling towards the earth and threatens to wipe out life as we know it. Let me show you how I can solve this problem.” Most people would be awake for that one – if not on the edge of their seats.
Admittedly, most presentations don’t concern such life-and-death issues. But they should still prevent your audience entering slumber mode. Here are ten suggestions to help.
1. Open with impact
Make a strong impression and grab the audience’s attention immediately. Remember that asteroid! Anything without that hook – your credentials, an irrelevant joke or the line “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” – should be consigned to the bin.
2. Define your purpose
What is the presentation for? Do you want to inform, change minds, get a sale, win the business? Everything in the presentation should then be geared toward that end. Anything that isn’t should be culled without mercy.
3. Stay in charge
Your presentation is your servant, not your master. Don’t skulk in the shadows or let your slides do your talking. Be in control and let your presence and personality come through.
4. Keep it short
The old adage “bikini length” is worth bearing in mind: long enough to cover the main points but short enough to be interesting. After the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, famous orator Edward Everett stood up and interpreted the events for two hours. Abraham Lincoln then delivered the Gettysburg Address in two minutes. Which do you think made more impact?
5. Keep it relevant
Relevant means of interest or concern to the audience, so make sure you understand where they’re coming from. If you can solve a real problem, save people money or help them do something important better, they definitely won’t fall asleep.
6. Call to action
What do you want the audience to do as a result of your presentation? Make sure you end with that. If it’s a business presentation, ask for the sale.
7. Practise beforehand
Nothing is set in stone, and nothing was ever written that wasn’t improved by editing, polishing, smoothing. Rehearse your presentation and it will be far more effective when you deliver it.
8. Be confident
This is easier said than done, but point 7 will help a lot. Try to enjoy yourself. If you do, your audience will do so too.
9. Expect the unexpected
Things can go wrong, and sooner or later they will happen to you: your notes will vanish on your journey to the meeting, the presentation won’t run for some reason. Have alternative plans in readiness for such events. And take a look at “Five things to do when the PPT projector fails” on this website.
10. Be interesting
People fall asleep in boring presentations, not exciting ones. The key to this point is simple: have fun, be passionate, and address the needs of the audience.
By David Vickery