7 steps to make your presentation more engaging

Your content is important, but even more important is making a genuine connection with your audience.

A successful presentation demands that people sit up and take notice. Yet, when was the last time you found yourself drifting off during a monotonous slideshow? It was probably not that long ago.

It never fails to amaze me how often smart people make common mistakes and give bad presentations. These seven steps will save that big presentation from becoming naptime for the audience:

1. Learn your presentation.

A slideshow is not a teleprompter. This is the first mistake I see far too many speakers make. Take the time to practice in front of friends or close colleagues who will be candid in advising you afterward.

It’s always obvious to everyone in the room if you’re repeating someone else’s words. If you are not passionate about the subject, you can’t expect anyone else to be.

2. Know your audience.

This one’s another big pitfall. To whom are you presenting, and what is their knowledge of the subject?

Doing the homework on your audience is as important as content. Engaging the audience is much easier if you know what makes them tick.

3. Tell a story.

It’s human nature to tell stories. Our ancestors have framed information with narrative long before water coolers and office gossip.

Structure your presentation as a beginning, a middle, and an end. Include characters and obstacles that the audience can relate to. Suddenly a dreary conference center or boardroom becomes much more entertaining.

4. Use fewer slides.

Summarizing a research project is always going to require a different approach from that of pitching a PR strategy. However, presenting technically complex information is no excuse to roll out massive volumes of text. Twenty or more slides plastered with numbers will turn any audience off.

Use the TED Talk model as inspiration. Many presenters don’t even use slides, but when they do, they convey their message with the bare minimum of visual content. If presenting to a smaller group, then a whiteboard or flipchart might be more suitable.

5. Paint a picture (with pictures).

Slides should complement what you are saying, not the other way around. By all means, include text in simple bullet lists but remember, facts and words are more captivating when you verbalize them. Let vivid imagery tell the story that you cannot.

Use eye-catching pictures to convey complex information. Infographics are great for this. If you are going to use photos, make sure they are inspiring.

6. Add a little humor.

You don’t have to become a stand-up comedian, but it helps. A lighthearted remark or humorous context will relax the audience and make them more receptive.

7. Interact with your audience.

Have you noticed how most comedians begin their gigs chatting with the crowd? It involves the audience and identifies situations that everybody can relate to.

I’ve noticed a growing trend for audience participation at conferences that gets the audience out of their seats. Make your presentation more memorable by revamping the tired Q&A formula and inviting feedback throughout.

Richard Delahay is a junior consultant with Brussels-based sustainability communications and PR agency Sustainability Consult. A version of this story originally appeared on the company’s blog.

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