Make Your Next Presentation a Talk Show

As I’ve mentioned, we cover a lot of meetings and see a lot of presentations. We’re always interested in the ingredients for success.

Andy Goodman thinks he’s found them. The consultant with Cause Communications spells them out in his book Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes—and How to Ensure They Won’t Happen To Yours.

If you’re used to conventional presentations, it may be hard to picture yourself doing what he suggests. But here are some of his prescriptions for an attentive audience:

  • Never speak for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. If you have an hour to fill, break the time into shorter blocks, with ten or fifteen minutes of audience participation after every fifteen minutes that you speak.
  • Don’t let all these participatory sessions be Q&A with you. Instead, think of ways to get audience members interacting with each other. When you do have Q&A sessions, don’t just throw it open and hope the audience comes up with something interesting—always lead off with a question or two for the audience.
  • Mix in techniques aimed at all kinds of learners. Some people learn best from numbers and logic, the staples of most presentations, but not everyone. Others respond better to stories, or basic principles illustrated with examples, or hands-on exercises, or pictures and music.
  • Tell stories. This doesn’t mean simply narrating your successes chronologically; it means using a classic story pattern, with strong characters, telling details, conflicts, and resolutions.
  • Focus on the beginning and the end. These are the times when your audience will be paying the most attention—yet another reason to sandwich Q&A into the middle of your talk instead of leaving it for the end. Your audience will probably retain only a handful of things from a whole hour, so you want absolute control of those last few minutes to go over the points you think are most important.
  • Make meaningful eye contact. Meaningful means eye contact with one person at a time, for a full sentence apiece.
  • Vary your volume, speed, and tone of voice to emphasize important points. Experiment with this when you rehearse. (You are rehearsing, aren’t you?) Avoid the fast monotone. On the other hand, make sure you have more techniques for creating emphasis than simply raising your voice.
  • Never include words on your PowerPoint slides that you plan to say aloud. Believe it or not, if you put different information on screen than what you say aloud, your audience will retain more of both. There’s research to support this.

Andy Goodman’s book also expands on tips we’ve covered before—for example, always to begin by considering your audience and what they want to hear, instead of what you want to say.

It won’t be your father’s presentation. But you’ll be remembered.

And now a word from our sponsor:

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 6, 2007 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Learning to become a good speaker by reading a book is like trying to lose weight by dieting. It rarely works. You become a good speaker by making speeches and presentations, getting honest feedback and following recommendations for improvement. Toastmasters is a great program for this.

    Here are some things that I’ve learned. Write your speech or presentation out.PRACTICE what you are going to say.MEMORIZE it so you don’t need to use notes.Humor is always appreciated.The less said the better.Don’t use PowerPoint if you don’t have to.You should be the star of the show.

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  1. [...] additional virtue, reminiscent of something else we’ve discussed before: images that complement the words spoken rather than simply reiterating them. The slides are [...]

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