sleepy crowdGot an upcoming presentation on your calendar? Here’s how to make sure your audience stays interested and engaged. The next time you’re tasked with developing and giving a presentation to colleagues, customers, or investors, try the following tips:

  1. Determine what you want to accomplish. What do you want the audience to remember and do as a result of your presentation? Whether it’s selling, buying, investing, or behaving differently, develop an interesting and simple story line that clearly highlights the key points you want the audience to remember.  If there is a “call to action”, make that crystal clear as well.
  2. Make your points memorable. If you plan to use PowerPoint, use pictures when you can, and less-and- larger rather than more-and-smaller text. We’ve all heard presenters say “this is an eye chart” when introducing a slide that no one, including the presenter can read. Please don’t say those words and don’t use anything that even resembles an eye chart. If you have very detailed information to deliver, put it in a handout to be distributed after the presentation.
  3. Limit the number of slides. Don’t use more than 10 slides per half hour of presentation time. Your message may be lost if you show and talk about more than that. And plan for some time to answer questions during and after the presentation.
  4. Have a “no slides” version. Projectors break or don’t show up, bulbs burn out and some people don’t like PowerPoint and would rather just talk with you. Make sure you can deliver an effective presentation without using slides.
  5. Practice and rehearse the presentation. I’ve seen people give presentations they’ve been handed at the last minute, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect; they stutter and stammer their way through them. Don’t try to give an important presentation without first rehearsing and getting critiqued by people who know what your audience will look for. Have a private, friendly and knowledgeable audience ask the tough questions in a rehearsal, before you have to answer them in public. Also, work on your ad lib skills, as no presentation goes exactly according to plan.
  6. Introduce yourself to your audience. (If you’re Oprah Winfrey or someone equally well known, you can probably skip this step).  I’ve seen quite a few people start right into a presentation without introducing themselves; don’t be one of them. In addition to the introduction, mention something relevant about yourself and explain why you’re there. If others from your team are with you, introduce each of them as well.
  7. Clarify the purpose of your presentation. If you’re presenting to a customer or investor, see if they agree on the purpose and if they have anything else they’d like you to address.
  8. Confirm how much time you have for the presentation. Be ready to deliver an abbreviated but effective presentation if you have to (as opposed to a high-speed version of the original that many people try and jam into the smaller time slot).
  9. Specifics are powerful, fluffy adjectives are not. Under no circumstances should you use the terms “paradigm shift”, “on a going-forward basis”, or ‘no-brainer”. Someone in the audience will cringe if you do (if I’m in the audience, I’ll cringe). Instead, use numbers, data, specifics, evidence, and real-world examples to show how what you’re talking about (a product, a service, a business) can help the audience. For example, if you’re presenting to a customer, show them how your product or service can help them earn or save money, and if possible, how much money. If that’s not possible, cite other customers who have earned or saved money using your product or service. And if you don’t have any customers yet, simply say so and why, and what you’re doing about it.
  10. Listen closely and answer questions directly. If you purposely give an evasive answer, or an answer that doesn’t make sense, your audience will know it and you will immediately lose credibility. Think about how you feel when a politician avoids answering direct questions and you’ll have an idea of how your audience will react if you do the same. No matter what, do not stretch the truth or say anything that you can’t back up, prove or at the very least, have a good reason to believe.
  11. Follow up quickly and completely. It’s ok if you don’t have a ready answer to an obscure question or the materials on hand to satisfy every request for more detailed information. It’s not ok to neglect to provide them within a few days. Capture every open question and request from your audience, send them an email that shows everything you captured, and then close the items on the list in a timely manner.

We’ve all sat through and sometimes delivered presentations that were less than captivating and that failed to get the hoped-for response from the audience.  We’ve all looked out at a sea of weary, yawning faces and knew that they wanted to be anywhere other than sitting or standing in front of us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the tips I’ve suggested here, and if you like the results, please pass this blog along to the people in your world who really need help. You know who they are, don’t you?