Being selected as a subject-matter expert presenter can be high praise. However, you need to do well because your reputation—and your company’s reputation—is on the line.
Whether you’re presenting in person or online, follow these steps to keep your audience’s attention and avoid the far off, unfocused sea of eyes in the room -- or worse, the people that "slyly" duck out (yet everyone notices).
1. Start with a story. You have to open with a bang. If you are able to grab your audience’s attention at the get-go, you’re more likely to keep them interested the entire time.
I once attended a session where the keynote speaker opened with a heartwarming story about dating a woman who later became his wife and learning to deal with her dog, who did not like him nor did he like the dog. Through hilarious recollections of his misadventures with this dog -- with whom he ultimately developed a strong, loving bond until her passing -- he had me wanting to both laugh and cry within five minutes of his presentation. And then I was hooked.
Start with a story that lets the audience know you’re a person, and relate this story to some main lesson learned that you hope to draw from the presentation.
2. Involve your attendees. Get your audience going with a sprinkling of engagement tactics, such as polls (online or show of hands), direct questions (ID a member of the audience or webcast) or even walking up to your audience and being in their space for a moment. Even something as simple as making eye contact with your attendees can encourage participation.
3. Include multimedia elements in your presentation. Words in a presentation are boring. People came to see you (or logged in to hear you speak), so they don’t want to read. Videos are one of my favorite tools. They’re highly visual and can be emotionally entertaining. Plus, our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text-based information, so videos will help your audience retain information.
4. Don’t make an unattractive presentation. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many underwhelming presentation designs I’ve seen. The best presentations are free of clutter, include large and sparse text, have ample amount of visuals and are short. Stick with palatable colors that are crowd pleasing and save the bold, battery-powered colors for accents and visuals. Also, always avoid the overuse of slide animation -- it’s distracting, leads to errors in the presentation and can be cheesy when used in excess.
5. Avoid last-minute prep work. Everyone should run through at least several mock presentations before delivering in front of a live audience. Choose a group of people you know to be your test audience. If your attendees have registered for your presentation, provide them with preparation materials beforehand to establish a relationship.
For example, if you’re a lawyer and will be discussing interesting cases in your presentation, send information to your attendees in advance so they can be up to speed on the details.
6. Speak naturally. This should go without saying, but it’s harder than you think. Try speaking to yourself in an empty room without sounding like you’re reciting the Declaration of Independence. When your conversation is mostly one sided, it will be challenging to maintain a casual cadence to your speech. People will find it easier to listen to and engage with you when your speech is conversational.
7. Have passion. You can’t fool your attendees. If you’re not passionate about the subject, they’ll know. This is where you should shine: You can increase your visibility in your career by being a memorable subject matter expert.
8. Encourage Q&A. If by the end of your presentation, the audience is a little shy about asking questions, it’s probably not you. It takes an icebreaker for the audience to warm up a little. That’s why you should come prepared with a few questions that you collect beforehand. Maybe you’ve already spoken to someone who will be attending and have a question or two you can call out from them. Ask a friend or colleague to attend your session and act as an icebreaker if needed.