Business presentations are an important part of everyday working life.
Done right, they’re an excellent way to bring information and ideas to life. Done wrong, they have the potential to send your audience to sleep.
Here are 5 steps to help you make your presentations more exciting and keep your audience alert and engaged.
1. Know what you want to communicate
Ask yourself: what makes your audience attend? What are they hoping to get from your presentation?
Then make up your mind about what information you want to convey.
Finally, see where these two intersect and stick to those key points.
When looking to deliver what you set out to do, make sure your talk has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Your slides will usually contain multiple points. Highlight one or two key messages you want your audience to take home, for example by putting a red text box around a key point when designing the slide in PowerPoint.
And remember, it’s better to finish early than to overrun. Keep it under 20 minutes (unless you’re a keynote speaker) and leave time for questions at the end.
2. Engage your audience
Before you launch into your presentation, it’s important to establish a relationship with your audience.
Acknowledge your audience first up, e.g. ask if people can hear you. You can also pepper your presentation with rhetorical questions, such as “and what conclusions can we draw from this?” or “how do we know this is true?”
Leave time for questions and clarification at the end so people feel ownership of the material.
Start strong and own your space as you take the floor. Stand up straight, lean forward and talk with confidence.
Finally, try to play with pitch, volume and pace to maintain the audience’s interest. Use gestures, rather than standing stock still, but keep them controlled.
3. Give your audience mental breaks by interacting
If you’re interacting with your audience – rather than delivering a monologue – they are more likely to actively listen and remember what you’re saying.
Take a break now and again to check in with your audience; it gives them a brief mental break and helps them connect with you.
Audience response systems (ARS), like CLiKAPAD, can be an excellent tool to keep your audience’s attention focused on what’s happening on stage or ‘wake up’ a crowd during PowerPoint presentations.
Whether you’re presenting to a training seminar, a business meeting, a Q&A session, workshop or conference, starting out with a group activity using an ARS can also prove to be a great ice breaker.
Participants can give instant feedback anonymously and honestly using a credit card sized keypad. They can vote, share opinions, take quizzes, polls and brainstorm ideas.
ARS technology can also enable the presenter to check knowledge levels on a topic before training starts and test understanding afterwards.
Use the feedback to immediately flash up, embedded in your Powerpoint presentation, as a graph in your chosen style and share the results with your audience.
4. Don’t just read out the slides
Don’t be tempted to read your slides out word for word, or pack them with too many bullet points. Much better to use them as a memory aid, then add what you think and feel about the subject.
Slides should support what you are saying, not outline the entire presentation. Think of ways to communicate in other ways than just using text.
Use visuals to aid understanding – graphs, drawings, charts, illustrations and photographs are all great ways to enliven a presentation. Video clips are also an excellent way to keep your audience alert.
5. Harness the power of neuroscience
Stronger, more enduring memories are formed in the brain when a person is relaxed and when the neurons in the brain connected with memory fire in sync with certain brain waves.
This means it is really helpful to try and relax yourself and your audience early on.
Plan your talk around a few key points and practise it out loud. You could serve tea and coffee beforehand to get your audience feeling alert and in a good mood.
Once you’ve started, use plenty of eye contact and smile; perhaps kick off with a story or a personal anecdote to help form an emotional bond with your audience.
The idea is to aim for high levels of the neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that connect your body and brain – to create a kind of energised calm. Too much stress can trigger the stress hormone cortisol, which can block creativity and inhibit information retention.