When’s the last time you sat through a presentation, turned to your coworker and exclaimed, “Wow! That was a terrific presentation! I wish we could sit through it five more times.”
Let’s be honest. You’ve probably never said that before in your entire life, and that’s because most presentations aren’t very exciting. In fact, most of them are downright boring. Truth be told, you might never get to a place where you give a presentation that leads to a standing ovation, but here are a few things you can do to make your presentations concise, interesting and compelling.
1) Avoid Lost Time
I’ve sat through presentations that seemed to drag on and on (and on) forever and ever (and ever). I sat through a presentation once that was two and a half hours long, and the material wasn’t even fun. It goes without saying that the longer the presentation, the more difficult it will be for you to keep your audience captivated and engaged.
Time is important because there are very few people in this world who feel they have time to spare. Practice your presentation with your spouse or your closest friend and accept constructive criticism. Scour your notes and figure out which areas, if any, could be cut down and expressed in fewer words. Then scour them again, because less is more.
Jokes are okay if they are 1) funny and 2) relevant. Jokes are definitely not funny when your audience’s stomachs are growling, they’re hungry, distracted and just want you to hurry this thing up and let them eat. Know your audience.
Sometimes, you will have no choice but to give a lengthy presentation. That’s okay; it happens to the best of us. However, one word of advice: do not begin your presentation by saying something like, “This is going to be a long presentation, so bear with me.” Don’t be a defeatist, and definitely don’t give your audience a reason to tune you out before you’ve even begun. In other words, don’t start your presentation with a warning and an apology. Showing a little confidence is a much better bet.
2) Be Visual
Microsoft PowerPoint is probably the most abused piece of software in existence. I’ve seen LinkedIn profiles that list “MS PowerPoint expertise” as a skill. Uh…Congratulations?
Look, I get it. It’s simple to use. It works on most computers, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility if you’re traveling somewhere new with your presentation deck. But way too many people use PowerPoint incorrectly.
When it comes to your visual helpers, use the handy dos and don’ts below.
- Copy and paste all of your notes onto PowerPoint slides, and read them aloud to an audience. Most adults know how to read. Don’t waste their time.
- Use sound effects and cheesy transitions. You are a professional businessperson. There is no need for this. Your audience just wants the information you’re trying to convey, and I promise you they’ve seen PowerPoint’s racecar slide transition effect before. It won’t impress them.
- Use pictures. Use charts, graphs and infographics. Use relevant, visually stimulating imagery. Do not display anything offensive, even if you find it absolutely hilarious.
- Give your audience members a tangible, physical item to browse through as you are presenting. You can print out the deck itself, if you want, or give them an even more concise overview of the information. Either way, this will help them take a little bit of ownership over the presentation, follow along, and give them something to take with them to review later.
3) Avoid the "Um, Uh, Like, You Know"
I don’t want to scare you from ever giving another presentation, but the way you speak will have a huge impact on how your presentation is received. The most common mistakes speakers and presenters make, and all of us have surely encountered this, are the “I’m giving time for my brain to catch up to my mouth” noises.
For example: “The most common, uh, mistakes that, like, speakers and, uh, presenters make are, um, like, you know, like those little, er...”
You get the idea. It’s tough. Many of us have grown so accustomed to using “ums,” “uhs” and “likes” in between thoughts and ideas while speaking that it’s hard to quit the habit.
But you have to stop doing that.
Again, practice this with a trusted friend until you figure it out. Try not saying anything at all in those little spaces. Literally pause. Take a breath, collect your thoughts, and then continue speaking. This is far, far less frustrating as a listener than the “ums” and “uhs” and likes and “y’knows.”
4) Speak Loud, Speak Proud
There is absolutely nothing worse (nothing!) than sitting through a presentation during which the presenter is not speaking loudly enough. Think of your audience’s poor little ears, straining hard to catch your words.
Don’t they deserve a break?
Yes. Yes, they do. It’s much better to speak too loudly than it is too softly. Use a microphone, if necessary. Practice your booming voice, again, with a trusted friend, in the mirror, or heck, with your labrador retriever. Above all, if your audience cannot hear what you’re saying, you better believe they are not receiving your message. Literally.
Do you have any presentation tips and tricks I’ve missed? We’d love to hear some of your favorites. But if you’re one of those weirdos who insists on picturing your audience members in their underwear, keep it to yourself. For everybody’s sake.
Jordan Metheney is an accounts representative at Wild Boy, an integrated interactive marketing agency in Massillon, Ohio. He is passionate and driven, with incredibly high expectations of himself. His quick wit leaves everyone in stitches, so we wouldn't be surprised if he moonlights as a stand up comic.
Originally published Dec 9, 2013 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023
Topics:Inbound Marketing Content Marketing