It doesn't matter how many times you practice for a presentation: you still only have one chance. Unfortunately, it can be incredibly challenging to both capture and retain audience interest and engagement during a presentation.
According to presentation creation platform Prezi, four out of five professionals said they shifted their focus away from the last presentation that they attended. It's a tough crowd out there!
Giving an engaging presentation thus requires a combination of the right presentation skills, an understanding of human psychology, and a well-designed presentation. So, your team should know the rules of an effective presentation before the next one.
How to give an engaging presentation:
- Keep it simple
- Tell a story
- Pay attention to design
- Keep your audience in mind
- Practice your presentation
- Repurpose your presentation
1: Keep it simple.
One of the most common mistakes in making presentations is making them too wordy, too information dense, and too complicated. Brevity and simplicity are allies in making an engaging presentation that keeps the audience’s attention. An analysis of presentations in the financial sector by Barron's found that shorter presentations outperform longer ones: “Poor performing investment presentations were 12 pages longer than ones that performed well.”
Moreover, each individual slide should be simple and straightforward. PowerPoint designer Nancy Duarte suggests that presenters follow a
3-second rule. Specifically, the audience should be able to understand the main point of a slide within 3 seconds. Why does this matter? Psychology. According to the Redundancy Effect, audiences that have to process the same information from multiple sources, like a visual PowerPoint slide plus what the presenter is saying, have a reduced ability to process and retain that information.
For more information about key presentation skills from the Practical Psychology YouTube channel, check out this video:
2: Tell a story!
Instead of making a presentation of decontextualized facts and figures, weave the content of your presentation into a narrative. More than half of people say that a great story is the main thing that keeps their attention during presentations, according to Prezi.
Google agrees. Think with Google, Google’s own market research branch, says, “Companies must understand that data will be remembered only if presented in the right way. And often a slide, spreadsheet or graph is not the right way, a story is.”
All of this means more than just relaying anecdotes, however. The presentation as a whole needs to have a clear focus and coherent, logical flow from beginning to end.
The beginning should include a good hook that grabs attention and, ideally, establishes some sort of emotional connection with the material. If nothing else, the presentation should convey why the information is important to the audience. The presentation as a whole should be structured to build its message seamlessly with smooth transitions from slide to slide and should conclude with some kind of payoff that satisfies audience expectations.
3: Pay attention to design.
Telling a good story is only part of how to give an engaging presentation. The narrative needs to be matched with effective visuals and design.
Prezi’s survey found that presentations that include visual aids were 43% more persuasive than the same presentations without visuals. The Redundancy Effect is offset by the Picture Superiority Effect, which means that people are more likely to remember information presented as images than text. These visuals can take many different forms, including photos, artwork, graphics, charts, icons, screenshots, tables, even memes.
Every presenter’s worst fear? Giving a presentation that puts people to sleep.
The secret to avoiding slumbering spectators is simple: Hurley Write’s Delivering Great Presentation Skills Workshop.
4: Keep your audience in mind.
Professional presentations are not uniform or universal in nature. A presentation to a boardroom is very different from an academic presentation to the scientific community, as a presentation to potential investors is very different from an in-house presentation to colleagues. They each demand different presentation skills and need to be targeted to the audience. The presentation needs to speak the audience’s language, using terminology they will understand, and it needs to align with their interests and goals.
But what if your audience is fairly broad and includes a mixture of people?
It depends. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, advises presenters to focus on the average audience member rather than the outliers. This can mean making the presentation less focused on the “bigwigs” in the room. But if you're making a presentation specifically to a board of directors or the C-Suite, that advice might flip. You have to think about what you're trying to achieve via the presentation and which audience member(s) you need to reach to be able to achieve that goal.
5: Practice your presentation skills!
You can spend hours or days or weeks preparing a presentation, assembling slides, and figuring out a good story to tell, but at the end of the day, you have only one chance to successfully make that presentation. If you lapse in the presentation itself, all of that prior work could amount to nothing. Therefore, practicing your presentation before giving it is vital. The more important the presentation, the more you need to practice.
This includes practicing it in front of a live test audience if possible, so that you can get feedback from friendly attendees before standing up in front of an audience that may be indifferent or, in some cases, even skeptical. Practicing your presentation gives you an opportunity to work out the kinks, figure out what questions or objections an audience might have, and help you familiarize yourself with the process of going through the story you've developed.
6: Repurpose your presentation.
Presentations take a lot of work! At minimum, you're likely to spend at least a couple of hours assembling your presentation deck and notes. For particularly important or technical presentations, you might spend days or weeks pulling all the information together.
Instead, get double (or triple or quadruple) duty out of your presentations. Use your presentation as a foundation for creating new pieces of content: Remix, reuse, and repurpose the information within the presentation to deliver the same information in new formats.
For example, you might write an article or paper using the same information and perhaps even the same verbiage as the presentation. You might use it for an online educational course. You can post excerpts from the presentation via social media.
Lastly, you can use this presentation as a template for future presentations that cover similar material for similar audiences. You need not reinvent the wheel if you have already crafted a well-designed presentation deck and narrative approach.
Do your team’s presentations put people to sleep?
With Hurley Write, workshop participants will learn to speak with confidence and deliver a clear message that’s worth staying awake for.
Giving a professional presentation soon? Here are some additional resources: