So you’re facing the audience and getting ready to present. Everyone’s attention is on you. What do you do? Here’s what I find works for me:
- Be Interesting — The mere fact that your audience is physically there in the room does not mean you have their undivided attention. In fact you can bet it’s divided as hell, between you, the phone, email and those pesky thoughts of that latest project, stock prices and whatever else. Your only way to make people listen is to be interesting. Big Time — you must grab people’s attention at the get-go and never let go throughout the presentation. If you do it right they’ll put everything else aside and concentrate on you. They’ll also enjoy the experience more (and often tell you about it afterwords — really interesting presentations are quite uncommon). Luckily, there are many ways to create interest and most are quite easy to learn: strong opening, story-telling, analogies, good slide deck, eye-contact, movement on stage, hand gestures, humor, pauses, suspense, change of tone, props, and much, much more. Be creative about it and it’ll pay dividends.
- Love your audience — loving your audience means catering to their needs as well as to yours. Giving them real value (e.g. useful information, unique insight and special tools) as well as the messages you wish to drive. Building the presentation while thinking of their point of view and doing whatever you can to smooth the transition from what they know to what you know. Checking in advance who the audience is and perhaps tailoring the presentation to it. Finally it means treating questions and comments with respect and never patronizing. If you do all that they’ll love you back.
- Be prepared — If people freed time to come and listen to you talk, you better repay them by being ready. Your slide deck should be 100% finished and polished. Projector, sound-system, laptop, pointer and anything else should be charged, plugged-in, connected and ready to go. You should have already rehearsed the presentation enough times to feel comfortable giving it. Finally and perhaps most important — you should know your stuff for real — way above and beyond what you intend to present, after all you are the subject matter expert and your audience will only trust you if you demonstrate this.
- Find Your Own Voice — it’s not easy feeling comfortable on stage. It’s twice as hard if you use a style of presentation that isn’t yours. There isn’t just one right way to give a presentation. The point is to make it your own by doing what works for you. If you’re the sort of person who likes to use many slides — do it. If you hate slides, forget about them and just talk. If you prefer to say the words exactly as you rehearsed them, that’s fine. If (like me) you prefer to improvise around the material, that’s also good. Build everything to match your style including slide deck (avoid using ones created by others), progression, word choice, tone, movement and so on. Dump anything else. If you don’t know what your particular style of presentation is, experiment in front of friends or the mirror.
- Break the Rules — You may come across the “golden rules” of effective presentations, that presentations coaches like to preach. Personally I dislike them wholeheartedly. Here’s one — the 5×5 rule — no more than 5 lines of text in each slide and no more than 5 words per line. Says who? I’ve seen wonderful presenters stomp this rule to the ground and deliver great presentations with loaded slides. Another example — the What’s In It For Me rule — you must tell people right at the start of the presentation why it’s important for them to hear it (to get them motivated, you see). Well, surprise, most people are intelligent enough to figure this out for themselves, provided you told them what the presentation is about. I suspect many of these “rules” were conceived originally for sales pitches that need to be short and simplistic. Forget about them and do what works for you (see number 4 again). Don’t be afraid to be creative and have fun with it.
What do you do to make your presentations better and more memorable?
Itamar Gilad (itamargilad.com) is a product consultant helping tech companies build products that deliver and capture tremendous value. He specializes in product strategy, product market fit, growth and innovation. Previously he was lead product manager at Google, Microsoft and a number of startups.