Recently, I’ve been speaking at a number of different conferences, some education, some tech, some business. The challenge with each is to come up with a unique and interesting presentation that will be engaging and beneficial to the audience. With three quite different audiences, you can’t just do one presentation and expect it be suitable for everyone. Instead, you need to understand your audience and through doing so, shape your presentation so that it’s beneficial to them. After all, the presentation is not about you or for you. It’s for them! You are merely acting as the guide to help them learn and lead them on their own path, (very Jedi in training style).
With that in mind, the first thing you need to do is research your audience. What’s their background? What interests do they have? What expectations might they have in going to a conference or going to hear someone speak? When you understand the needs of your audience, you now have a platform from which to build a useful presentation.
If it is a conference, there’s often a theme to it, which is also important to recognise. If you’re presenting something that’s way outside this theme, it can be disjointed and can fail to meet the expectations of those attending. However, if you can, it’s also worth looking at what other speakers are covering and avoiding repetition as that can be problematic too and your presentation has to be way better than theirs.
Once you have a couple of the basics sorted, then it’s time to put together some of the following, so that it’s engaging and interesting and so that your audience doesn’t feel like throwing the free pens at you.
Consider the following:
Experience – anecdotal evidence and personal experiences told in an interesting way can be a fantastic way to engage the audience and hold attention from the outset. The more interesting you can be, the more effective your presentation will come across. Start with a story to get everyone involved. At one conference, I started with the story of the student who took a superman dive in a bed of oysters… At this point they’re either excited to hear what happened next, or cringing and wanting you to stop… Don’t stop, it’s too late already for that!
Linkages – Build this story and have a point to it. Link it back to the theme topic or core problem your experience or knowledge-base of the audience would have already. For example, if you’re talking about how you innovated to a group of businessmen and women, link this back to how this process of innovation can be replicated in their businesses. If you’re talking about how a student managed to superman dive into a bed of oysters, then link it back to student management, risk management and first aid. The linkages provide a clear and relevant connection with how this information could be useful to participants.
Powerpoints Slides – The best thing to do if you have a power point or keynote “thingy” to go with your presentation is to just have a single image or a slide with a couple of key bullet points - nothing more! Most importantly, don’t read your slides!!!! This annoys people and they will start throwing the pens at you. Hence, don’t do it, unless you’re prepared for the incoming volley.
Longer Presentations & Workshops – The longer the presentation, the more important it is you vary it up and add in practice activities or group discussions from which the audience can interact with each other and have a break from the presenter. Again, it’s because the session is about them and not you that this is so important. Link the activity and the results of that, back into your presentation.
Practise – Before doing your presentation you need to practise it! Stand in front of a mirror and run through your speech. Know how each section should run and for how long it should run. There’s always an intro, a main body and a conclusion and you will always have a time limit. Practise it and stick to your time limit. Be prepared to drop sections on the run if you have to cut down on the time to ensure you finish the session on time. Practice also enables you to have better contact and engagement with the audience.
Eye Contact – This is critical! Eye contact is about building trust and building a relationship. If you want people to trust you and what you’re saying, you need to be able to engage with them effectively and let them see your eyes. If you’re just reading off a piece of paper, this breaks the relationship and is ineffective. Look around the room. Make a point of presenting to each part of the room as you scan throughout the presentation. Nobody knows what you’re going to say, but people quickly understand how you’re going to say it, if you don’t make eye contact with them. Again, the risk of pens flying at you is a real possibility.
Powerful Conclusion – Many presentations fizzle out. They lack a punch. They lack a point. They lack a powerful action step moving forward. Think about what is a really important take away for your audience! Are they looking to upskill on a certain topic or area? Are they worried about something that’s new in terms of legislation, responsibility, legal duty or a new way of doing something or thinking that they’re now willing to try? If so, challenge them to do this. Take action, take a risk, do something about it. Again, it comes down to the fact that the presentation is about the audience and improving their lives, not about you. Leave them with something to think about and get moving on to actually do.
If you can build these few steps into a presentation that you’re doing, then you’ll be way ahead of most presenters already and you won’t have to protect yourself from the flying pens. If these pointers aren’t enough or too much, then just think of it this way. If someone’s given up 30 minutes of their time to listen to you speak, then you need to make that 30 minutes of their life a valuable and memorable one. Nobody remembers boring speakers, so don’t be a boring speaker. Make it fun, make it worthwhile and make it memorable. Because if you can do that, then that’s a session I want to be sitting in and listening to you.