Many people struggle with public speaking, which usually involves standing in front of your peers, whose eyes are glued on you (and only you), and trying to remember the key points of your presentation. No matter whom you’re speaking to, you need a lot of preparation and practice to effectively create and deliver a professional talk.
What's more, delivery is just one part of the process. If you want to capture your audience members' attention and prevent them from dozing off or wishing they were elsewhere, you need to step up your presentation's overall quality, from your delivery style to your slide decks (which should be awesome). You’re unloading a lot of new information on them, so try to keep them entertained and engaged.
Here’s how you too can create thought-provoking, captivating presentations that will win over any audience -- regardless of size.
1. Remember: Brevity is awesome.
I can't express how much I appreciate presenters who possess the rare skill of getting to the point in as little time as possible. Even if a presentation is laced with fantastic content, your audience won't find it easy to sit and patiently listen to you speak for an extended period of time.
Long, meandering speeches sap an audience’s energy, and it won’t be long before you start losing listeners. The most successful speakers in history understood the importance of brevity in presenting their ideas, so do what they've done: aim for a shorter, punchier speech during your next presentation.
2. Tell stories.
I’ve sat through countless presentations that had a solid foundation, with good data and concluding takeaways, but the delivery was absolutely mind-numbing. Things get even worse if you rant or spiral off into tangents that lead to a chaotic mess of data, branching points or topics with no sense of flow or connection.
Instead, focus on the core concepts of your presentation and engage your audience with relatable storytelling. People love success stories and case studies, and the use of storytelling makes all the information -- as well as your key points -- super relatable to the average audience member.
Avoid telling the entire story up-front. Instead, tell it in chapters as you take your listeners on a journey throughout the presentation. Create a natural sense of flow to keep your audience interested. That way, they’ll eagerly consume the information from your presentation while anticipating the next part of the story.
3. Use visuals wisely.
Don’t include a ton of graphs and charts in hopes of making your presentation appear more credible. If the audience can’t interpret your visuals just from looking at them, then you’re trying too hard.
“When I see a presentation that’s full of unreadable graphs and tables, what goes through my head is, ‘Wow, this guy wants me to see how hard he worked to crunch all these numbers,’” says Echo Swinford of Echosvoice.com. “We’re not in third grade, and I don’t need you to show me your work. What I do need is for you to show me what’s relevant and tell me what your point is.“
Also, don’t overload your slides with text. You, not your slides, should do the talking.
4. Speak to the audience, not an individual.
It’s not uncommon to see presentations made for a single individual -- like the bigwig in the room or a small group of influencers attending a larger event. The problem with this approach is that you’ll be missing the mark with the majority of your audience, and that will waste time. You won’t have much influence or ability to persuade your listeners one way or another.
To avoid this, target the message of your presentation to the wider group, or to the average person in your audience. You’ll form much better connections, the audience will be more responsive and you’ll see a much higher return once you’re finished.
5. Go big with your elements.
Guy Kawasaki has a 10/20/30 rule in presentation design, in which he does not use any text smaller than 30-point font. The larger the type, the more your text will pop and grab the attention of the audience. Those people are probably so used to seeing data-packed slides that a single, prominent slide will create the perception that the information it contains must really be important.
6. Be both serious and whimsical.
It’s rare that a presentation has to be 100 percent serious. While you certainly want your audience to understand the core concepts of your presentation, which can require a serious tone and delivery style, you also want to entertain. Mixing in humor, in the right doses, such as a couple of humorous images, can make your presentation memorable and encourage laughter. People like to laugh because it makes them feel more comfortable.
At the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for -- the audience to remember the takeaways, link them to your personal brand and carry that information on in their lives. Incorporating storytelling often presents unique opportunities to add humor and sound smarter during your presentation so you can knock it out of the ballpark.
Regular practice will help you deliver better presentations, but there are other ways to refine your skills besides trial by fire. Getting in, doing it and measuring the audience response to your presentation elements will help you refine and improve your delivery style and overall approach. With these recommendations, you’ll eventually be able to present like a pro. And your audiences will be riveted.