Five Keys to Making Your Next Presentation A Great One

Congratulations, you’ve been asked to give a talk (or maybe you paid for it as a sponsor). It may be for your local chamber of commerce or in front of a group of high schools students. It may be for an association you’re a member of or a local networking group. It may be for a group of venture capitalists or maybe you’ll be accepting an award for how well your business has done.

Regardless of what the venue is or the reason why you’ve been chosen, you’re now faced with a chore that most people dread and one which very few people (unfortunately) are good at.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. And, more importantly, it’s not that difficult to go from creating and delivering an ordinary talk to creating and delivering a remarkable one. And to get you started, here are five keys that will take any presentation you have to give up a notch.

1. Make It About Them, Not You

By far, the single biggest mistake most presenters make (and you know this to be true because you’ve been bored just like I have) is talking about themselves and what they do. Why is this such a big problem? Because good communication isn’t based on what you or I want to say, it’s based on what the listener wants to hear.

In fact, my starting premise for just about everything in life is that “Everyone is motivated by self-interest.” Once you own that, it makes everything else infinitely easier.  Why? Because you won’t be fighting human nature, you’ll be working with it.

The problem the typical business person gets into when addressing a group of people is that they aren’t thinking about the people they’re speaking to, they’re thinking about what they want to say (i.e. “I’m an expert. I have something you need to know. Listen up”).

But you and I aren’t computers who simply want more content dumped into our already overcrowded craniums. We’re self-interested sentient beings who care primarily about ourselves. So if you get up to give a presentation and you primarily talk about you and your company, then you’re working against human nature.

Instead, focus your comments on your audience. Do an audience analysis. Think about their fears and frustrations, their dreams and desires, their wants and needs, their problems and pains, and their goals and objectives. Then, once you get clear on who they are and what they want, then structure your comments to focus on them.

A good key question to keep asking yourself about anything you want to say is, “So, why does anybody really need to know this?” If you focus more on your audience and not you, you’ll be amazed at how much more attentive your audience will be.

2. Vary Your Vocal Dynamics

You’ve been there. Whenever a speaker gives a talk in a very narrow vocal range you find yourself and your eyelids getting very heavy–almost as if you’re being hypnotized (slowly … slowly … slowly).

On the other hand, you’ve also probably listened to other speakers whom you’ve enjoyed who’ve been able to keep you awake for long periods of time. What’s the difference?  Usually, their vocal dynamics.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but listening to someone speak non-stop for 15 or 30 or 60 minutes is unnatural. Normally, there’s banter going back and forth. So when the typical business person gets up in front of a group of people and chooses to use a conversational tone the entire time–that’s hard to endure. It’s not natural.

On the other hand, when you listen to a good speaker, you’ll observe that their vocal range is all over the place. Some parts of their talk will be strong and forceful, while others will be calm and collected. Sometimes they’ll be loud while other times they’ll be soft. Sometimes they’ll speak very fast and other times very slow. Sometimes their pitch will be very high and at other times very low. It’s all about variety.

So, if you want to make your next presentation a great one, make sure you take some time to work on your vocal variety. The phrase we use in the educational market is, “You have to be an edutainer these days.” No longer can you just “educate,” now you have to entertain while educating.

3. Provide Less Content While Telling More Stories

I’m sure you’ve sat through some of the same presentations I have. The typical business speaker gets up, with lots of PowerPoint slides, and then describes their company, their history, their products and services, with way too much detail. And it’s just too much.

What’s hard for most of us to remember is that 95% of what people hear, they forget within 24-72 hours (I know, that drives me crazy too!). Even worse, the 5% they remember is usually the wrong 5%!

So, what do they remember? They remember the one or two ideas that were most relevant to their current wants, needs or desires (see point one above). They remember a cool factoid or idea that intrigued or surprised them. And they remember the cool story you told about X. What they don’t remember is tons of content!

Which means that if you want to be a more persuasive speaker (which is what you should want to be otherwise, why give a talk), reduce the amount of content you’d like to convey and ramp up the number of stories and illustrations. If you do that, you’ll be amazed at how much more attentive people are.

4. Avoid Assuming, “Everyone Knows …”

My father was a professor in education and used to say that the definition of a profession is a group of people who have their own “voc-a-bul-a-ry”. And you know this to be true. Every group has their own language.

In fact, both of my parents were educators and whenever the two of them were talking at the dinner table, they would throw out acronyms right and left, as if my brother and I (who were in middle and high school at the time) should know them and I’d have to frequently say, “Hey, you two, remember, we’re not educators.” It wasn’t that they were intentionally trying to keep us out of the loop, they were just talking at the dinner table like they would at the office.

And that same phenomenon happens in business talks all the time. If you haven’t seen my video on the problem of knowledge (“once you know something it’s hard to remember what it’s like to not know that thing”), I’d encourage you to watch it because (even though I was using it in the context of leading change) it’s a great lesson for all of us whenever we’re trying to communicate to a new group of people.

We all make assumptions about what other people know. And typically, it’s based on what we know. But whenever someone talks “above” another person, it not only hinders communication, it communicates that that person doesn’t really care about the other person.

So my recommendation is to always fill in and describe anything that you think the people in your audience may not know. For example, if you’re a financial planner, you spend every day thinking about asset allocation. So it would be very easy to jump into a talk and just assume everyone knows what asset allocation is—which would be a huge mistake.

Instead, you might want to say something like, “Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the phrase ‘asset allocation,’ here’s what I mean …” and then you’d give your definition. What you’ll discover is that if you asked a number of people in the audience one-on-one, “Do you know what _________ is,” a lot of them will say “Yes,” without really knowing. So, if you go the extra step to explain it for those who “may not know,” you’ll find a lot of other people (who supposedly know) happy that you took the time to explain what you meant 🙂

5. Be Prescriptive, Not Descriptive, in Your Outline

There are two primary reasons for doing this. The first reason is because most people are already overwhelmed by content. The last thing they want is to hear more content. So, whenever you’re using a descriptive outline, you’re simply saying, “Here’s more content that I think you need to know.”

The second reason is because you want people to actually do something in response to your talk. To increase the probability of them doing that, you’ll want to tell them exactly, “Do this.” And the best way to do that is in your outline, which, if you’re good, you’ll repeat several times.

To explain the difference between the two, let’s say you’re an attorney and you’ve been asked to give a talk on social media. If you’re a typical content-driven presenter, part of your outline might look like this

1. Social Media is Here to Stay
2. Social Review Sites Can Influence Revenues
3. Companies are Being Sued for Employees Making Comments on Social Media Sites

That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t really tell you or me what we should do. To move from descriptive to prescriptive, your outline might look like this.

1. Ride the Tidal Way of Social Media Lest You Get Beached
2. Respond to Comments on Social Media Review Sites
3. Create a Social Media Policy Before You Get Sued

The first outline simply informs you, but the second can transform you because it tells you what you should do. Again, this simple tweak can make a huge difference in the response to your talk. No one needs more content. They want to get some kind of result and content is simply a means to that end.

So, there you go. Five keys that you can begin to apply to your next talk. Whether you’re talking to your employees, a community group, an association audience or you’re in front of a group of potential investors, these five will help you get to that next level.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you want to add your favorite ideas for creating and delivering a better talk, add them in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by RSS or email)