You’ve likely had to sit through one (or many). You may have even texted, surfed the internet, or snoozed through one. Listening to corporate event presentations may be a hazard or perk of your job, depending on how good the presenter is. No, you can’t excuse it with “the information was just dry so naturally the presentation was boring” or “I have no idea what that presentation was about but at least the juggling bulldog video they showed was entertaining.” It all falls on the presenter whose one job is to present the information in a way that captures attention of the audience and keeps it while making the points clear and memorable.
And now you find yourself having to give one—at least you paid enough attention to the others to know what NOT to do. But you want to make it a killer presentation that sets the gold standard for presentations and will be remembered for years to come (and maybe have a monument erected in your honor afterwards. Too much?). We’ll talk through 7 things to keep in mind while designing your (sure to be epic) presentation.
1. Create a powerful story.
Have you ever read a book that rambled on incessantly and jumped around from here to there with no discernable point? You may have had a general grasp of the information or ideas the author tried to convey, but likely you were thinking “what are they even talking about?” And that’s when you closed the book and took a nap instead. If only the author had known how to make the story flow, you wouldn’t be fast asleep, drooling on your new suede couch.
Creating a presentation is similar to writing a story. You might have many fine and even powerful points to make, but if you present them in a jumble of unconnected ideas, then you don’t have a cohesive presentation, you have a jumble of unconnected ideas. This is likely to lead your audience members to wonder what the point in all of it is—and even more likely you’ll lose their attention.
Work on the logical development of your information (story) and make it easy to follow one point to the next and to see just how all of it is connected. It will create something powerfully moving, something that can motivate your audience, generate enthusiasm, and where applicable, lead to brand loyalty.
2. Build your story in a way that connects to other presentations.
We talked about making logical connection within your own presentation, but let’s zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Sure, you want to get your own information across, but what is the purpose of the event? Let your presentation fit it seamlessly with the theme of the entire program. Before designing the presentation, can you have a chat with some of the other speakers, especially those right before and after you, to find out more about what they are presenting as well as where they end and begin? Knowing where they are going will help you to design your presentation in a way that fits in neatly with the other presenters and feels like one beautiful flow of connected ideas.
3. Use available tech to help tell your story.
Maybe you have an idea of how you want your slides to look, maybe you’re even ambitious enough that you’ve already created them complete with words, and graphs, and pictures, and all sorts of fun stuff. But are you quite there yet? Let’s jazz this up to really make it shine with an amazing thing we call technology! Lights, music, sound (especially consider changes and variations in these as the presentation moves along), video animation, and even interactive displays can help take the way you present your presentation to the next level.
Ok so you love tech now and are fully convinced that you’ve over there in 3020 while everyone else is still so 2019. But have you thought of everything? Are you sure? It’s not enough to have awesome tech like viewing screens but have you optimized your presentation to fit your screen? Whether it’s a screen for ants or it can be seen from the space station (we’re guessing somewhere in between), your presentation should fit properly without words or graphics being cut off or too small to actually see.
Placement of your screens/worrying about the layout of the room is just important. You can have the best presentation the world will ever see but if Sharon from accounting (or all of table 9) has the view blocked by columns or other obstructions, you won’t get the full accolades or attention your presentation so deserves. Before the presentation, work with the event team or stage manager to ensure that you have the correct size screens and their placement or room layout is optimal for viewing.
4. Connect to your audience on an emotional level.
Earlier we talked about levels of connections throughout the presentation and event, but possibly the most important connection is the one you, the presenter, needs to make with your audience. Yes, we’ll say it again, needs to make. Why is that so important?
If you are looking to give your audience something truly unforgettable (that doesn’t involve you streaking naked through the room, high fiving everyone or some other juvenile nonsense—keep it professional, Chad), you need to go beyond relying solely on your visual resources. In order to help impress information on the minds of your listeners, you have to reach their heart as well.
Make a connection with your audience through relatable anecdotes, humor, dynamic speaking (changes in pitch, power, pace; confidence; conviction) or visuals that stir emotions. If your presentation is all slides and/or you sound like (or actually are) reading from a script, bury it because it’s all dead, including your audience members’ hearts and attention spans.
Equally important as what you say is how you say it. But before you break out the fake tears and overdramatic soap opera acting, there’s a difference in being emotional during your presentation and connecting to your audience’s emotions. This isn’t your chance to perform your personal rendition of The Notebook where you try to pry tears from your listeners to get an emotional response just for the sake of an emotional response. You want the emotions to have purpose, one that is connected to the information you are presenting. Scientific studies have shown that a speaker’s tone of voice (including varying emotional pitch) attracted more attention, improved the way the brain processed the words being spoken, and influenced memory. Do you remember the last dry robotic speech you heard? Of course you don’t. Point taken.
5. Put on a show.
Wait a minute, didn’t we just crush your dreams of doing a performance so moving that the little people have no recourse but to create an Emmy-like award to honor it? And now we’re saying to put on a show? What do we want from you? Get a grip on your Hollywood fantasies, we’re still talking about a professional setting and a presentation that represents your company or brand.
We mean that presenting information shouldn’t be like a robot reading an encyclopedia. You can and should have fun while conveying your story. This includes varying the way you tell it throughout the presentation (verbally, slides, video, etc.) and is closely related to our previous point of connecting with your audience. Make them laugh, challenge their conceptions, make them think—not only through powerful words but through questions, let them ask questions as well, make the best use of visual resources, and above all be approachable and human. If you make a mistake, don’t make it worse by continuing to fumble or making awkward, stumbling apologies, or even worse try to pretend like it never happened, laugh about it with your audience and roll with it.
With all this talk of tech, don’t forget a classic element that connects to memory and emotion—music. A show can’t really be a show without it, and it can add power to your words. A downloaded playlist is cool, but have you ever thought about what live music (a band) can do for your presentation? It can infuse your presentation, nay, an entire room with energy—motivating listeners, alleviating fatigue, and grabbing attention.
6. Pay attention to pace.
No matter how amazing the other elements of your presentation are, pace matters. Too slow and everyone’s brain falls asleep or you are successful irritating those unfortunate enough to stay awake. Too fast and it becomes a dizzying montage where brains can’t really process the information quickly enough rendering a lot of good information virtually useless. And without a variation in pace, you’ve just hypnotized your audience into a coma.
Including a variation of dramatic high moments and thoughtful lows (instead of a stream of manic highs or a monotonous stream of lows) can create a fluid approach to your presentation, help make that sought-after emotional connection, and increase memory retention.
7. Know when enough is enough.
You might be so afraid of underwhelming your audience that you may swing the other way and actually over Too much information can create an overload, too long and you’ll overstay your audience’s attention span. Even interesting information can suffer if there’s just too much.
Instead make sure to highlight and emphasize the main points you want your audience to walk away with. You may consider reducing the number of words on your slides and adding in easy-to-process visuals in their place, or just keeping the wording clean and concise.
We applaud speakers who allow audience questions, but even that can get overdone. Taking too many questions, especially from people who are asking questions that are only interesting to them, can lose your audience’s attention and make them feel like things are dragging on interminably.
Well, we don’t want to overstay our welcome on this blog post either, so we’ll wrap this up. Use creative ways to present content through visuals, music, interesting and powerful speech, humor, metaphors that make the audience think, and good use of emotional speech. Use tech to your advantage, creating a story arc that plays on other presentations and makes your message easy to recognize and remember. Most of all, be human and have fun.