We have all been there, the after lunch presentation that takes two hours, has 500 bullet points, and puts the most well intentioned person to sleep. Yet year after year, the standard Powerpoint snooze-fest continues. People keep filling slides with bullets in ever smaller font sizes and stand in front of everybody and read the slides to them, with presentation skills that need a definite refresh.
My response: I don’t need you to read your slides to me… If you want me to read this stuff give me a printout and let me get back to work.
I would like to share with you today some ideas to improve your next presentation. One where people pay attention, and actually look forward to the next slide. Here are seven ideas that will improve your presentation to help your audience focus on what you have to say and respond to your call to action.
1. Start at the Beginning. Research has shown that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. With the advent of e-mail and the internet, our current attention span is now under 30 seconds. In fact, while web browsing it’s as low as 9 seconds. This means that you need to get your audiences’ attention quickly… or you will lose them. The start of your presentation must be focused and create interest. Hit them with your best shot. If you don’t get their interest here, the rest of the presentation will be lost.
2. Draw People In. The best way to create interest is to start with a quotation, a radical fact, a startling statistic or an unexpected visual. This isn’t going to be a boring presentation. You need to draw your audience from the comfort of their seats to the front edge. Here are three slide examples…
3. Outline Your Points. Once you have their attention, you need to present your information in a logical and organized fashion.. The middle of your speech is where organization is key. When designing, it’s usually helpful to put all of your points on paper, rearrange them in proper order and then eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the conversation. Taking a boring or off-topic slide out will increase the flow of your presentation and keep your audience focused.
4. Add Contrast. Nancy Duarte, in her great book, Resonate, makes the case that you need to add contrast to your presentation. You take what is and contrast it with what can be. As you make each point throughout your presentation, add some contrasting information. She provides a nice graph in her book of a well planned presentation. It looks like this…
5. Add Pictures and Graphics. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is really true in a PowerPoint presentation. When designing your slides try to have a main picture or graphic per slide and limit your text to one thought or point. Here is an example.
Instead of bullet points, using a powerful picture with one thought per slide adds interest and keeps your audience from falling asleep.
6. Close the Deal. When your presentation is almost over you need to close the deal by asking your audience to take action. You need to ask for the sale, the contract, or to consider your proposal. Just presenting facts without a close, is a waste of time. Remember this. You can learn all the presentation skills in the world, but if you don’t ask your audience to take action you have wasted their time. Your close is what people will remember most. Make it compelling. Make it bright, big and bold. Make it stick!
7. The Focus is You. Like it or not, when you are presenting, the audiences focus is on you… not your slides. If you design your presentation with this in mind, people will follow along. If you just put up a bunch of text and read your slides, you have wasted your time and your audiences. If you If you lack speech skills, organizations like Toastmasters can help. Here are a couple of tips.
- When you stand in front of your audience, stand to the right side of the screen (as viewed by your audience). Since people read from left to right, this will allow them to see your slide first and then focus back on you.
- Use the b key in PowerPoint (or the blank button on the remote) to put up a blank screen. This will instantly bring the audiences focus back to you. Use this when you are telling a story, or making an important point and you don’t want the distraction of a slide behind you. This is the easiest presentation skill you can use to instantly gain audience rapport.
- Always face your audience. If you can put your laptop on the lectern or podium where you can see it, you can put it in presenter’s view. This will allow you to see your existing slide and the upcoming one along with any slide notes on the laptop screen. This allows you to keep your eyes on the audience instead of turning around to read the screen and is one of the best way to improve your speaking skills. If you can’t put your laptop here, you can print out a sheet with your slides on it. I find that 6 to 9 slides per page works well. Having a small pocket mirror on the lectern allows you to see the screen without turning around, so you know what slide the audience is currently viewing.
As you outline and possibly write out your presentation, go down the list and make sure you’ve added contrast, interesting points and most important, be sure to include a call to action. Once done with the outline, underline points of inflection and make a note of key points that you want the audience to leave with.
Public Speaking Skills
By refining your “speak presentation” you can take your overall interaction with the audience to a whole new level. Here are five techniques that professional speakers use to draw their audiences in.
- Eye Contact. Use your eyes to gain rapport with your audience. As you scan the audience, make eye contact with individual people for a brief moment. This instantly gives them the feeling that you, the speaker, is talking directly with them.
- Pitch. Different pitch points provide different emotional reactions. A distraught voice has a different pitch than a happy voice, which is distinct from an excited voice, and so on. Stories are good place to vary the pitch and will bring a speaker’s voice alive through different emotions.
- Pace. Watch your overall pacing. Have a few people critique your speed. Many novice speakers tend to go way too fast. A good tip is to keep it fast enough to make it exciting but not too fast that people cannot follow along. One trick to draw attention is to keep a moderately quick pace but slow down through key statements. This helps your audience focus on memorable take-aways that will stay with them after the presentation.
- Volume. Make changes in volume that align with your variations in emotional content. Use a loud voice for anger or joy, while a soft voice is just perfect for fear or sadness.
- Pauses. A quick way to use the pause for effect is to use short pauses following every sentence, and longer pauses at the ends of paragraphs or transitions within your speech. A well used pause is magic.
By mastering a few public speaking skills, you’ll quickly build rapport with your audience.
Practice Your Presentation
Now that you have some ideas and techniques for a new presentation, it’s a good idea to practice them with an audience present before you go live. This will increase confidence and help you discover areas that might need polishing or improvement. A great place to do this is a local Toastmasters club. You can find one close to you by searching the club listings at Toastmasters.org. Their ten speech introductory manual will help you master the speaking points above and help you build trust in your speaking skills.
Creating powerful, interesting and professional presentations is a great way to build your business, sell your product or get a promotion. Follow these simple tips and you’ll stand out from that boring crowd reading their slides and putting everyone to sleep. Instead, you’ll have people commenting how good your presentation was and following through on your call to action.
Question: Which of these presentation skills do you want to master most?