THE KEY RULE OF ANY PRESENTATION IS: it’s not what you say, it’s what they remember. A key to helping the audience remember is to feel their energy and adapt your presentation to it. This means, if they are looking at their phones or at the door, you need to engage them more, or on the other hand if they are sharing awkward stares with their neighbour and leaning back as far away from you as possible, then you need to tone it down.
What do you want the audience to remember the most? How boring you were? How crazy you were? Or your key message?
If it’s your key message that you want them to remember (which hopefully it is!) then you need to present it in the right way. You need to get the audience’s trust and attention from the very beginning. Start with something energetic, something that gets the audience happy to be where they are, to like you and curious to learn more about what you want to say.
Last week in Beijing I gave a presentation on training evaluation and I decided to start by getting everyone to stand up, do some stretches and greet the people next to them. This got them energised, laughing and comfortable with the strangers who were sitting next to them. Then before letting them sit down, I asked them a series of questions about how much training evaluation they did in their company, and if they answered no to each question then they could sit down. Upon my last question “if you don’t measure the ROI of training in your company, then you can sit down” all but one person sat down. That proved to the entire room that all of them have the potential to learn a lot of relevant information from my presentation.
I followed this up by introducing myself and talking about my experience in the topic I was presenting on, and then going on to describe the structure of my presentation. This helped them trust that I knew what I was talking about (and thus was useful for them) and prepared them for what was to come.
The rest of the presentation went very well, and having a great start to a presentation really helps with the success. Remember, first impressions count, and sometimes it is only a matter of seconds before someone forms their impression of you, so start with something positive and impressive. If you go straight into a presentation with no thought of energy then you have increased the potential for negative energy in the room.
I am the happy owner of many an Apple product, which brings me to Steve Jobs and his brilliant presentation skills. He uses plenty of visuals and colourful language in his presentations, which make them far more impacting. Instead of simply describing his products and their features, he tells a story about each of them; from deciding the concept to the wonderfully presented final product. He uses simple language that most people can relate to; there are a lot of technical terms that electronics geeks can use but Steve Jobs knows not everyone is familiar with these and sticks to the things that are important for the audience. Finally, he is extremely passionate about his products and it shows; he uses energy, warmth and humour to describe his products. Some people may not take his presentations too seriously, and some people may think that his presentations are a joke, but the huge number of Apple followers and popularity of his products reflect his skill at communicating with the audience. And the audience’s cheering and applause really show how much energy these simple techniques create.
The worst presentations I have seen are all about content. They are desperate attempts to squeeze in as much content as possible in very short periods of time. There is no single attempt to read the audience, let alone engage the audience. If you are not as well prepared as Steve Jobs, then don’t be afraid to leave your script and throw in a bit of energy if you feel it necessary. The best presenters can control the energy of the room, and if you can do that then the audience will remember what you have to say.