5 Ways to Wow at Your Next Presentation

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Awe-wow-woman We’re all trying to find a way to rise above the rest – to separate ourselves from the crowd.  Most presentations seem to follow the same framework – podium, mic, computer, PowerPoint, title slides, bullet points, question and answer, contact information, thank you.  There seems to be a common path that most presenters take, and the trail is painfully worn down.  Not only that, but the trail isn’t a very good one either.  It will rarely, if ever, bring you to the goal you’re trying to reach because it’s a poor way of presenting.  Too common.  Too boring.  Too scripted.

Instead, presenters are coming up with new and innovative ways to wow their audiences by breaking the common mold.  Here are 5 ways to wow at your next presentation:

  1. Don’t Stand Still – Podiums (a.k.a. Lecterns) must have some sort of magnets built into them because speakers seem to be clung there with no escape route in sight.  Podiums, while looking very “official”, create barriers between the speaker and the audience, causing the audience to feel separated, disengaged, and being spoken at instead of with.  Now, I realize that this is often because the only available mic is wired to the podium.  That being said, try to find any way possible to break free of the podium and use all the space available.  Walk from one side of the stage to the other to make eye contact with each member of the audience.  This may not be feasible if you’re in a conference room, but always try to take it one step further.  If you’re expected to sit, stand.  If you’re expected to stand, stand and walk around.  If you’re expected to walk around the stage, get off and into the crowd.  Simply find a way to break the space to grab and keep the audience’s attention.
  2. Do Whatever it Takes to Make Your Audience Happy - At the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) conference I heard that Gary Vaynerchuck spent (at least) 75% of his allotted speaking time answering questions.  Since Gary truly cares about his audience’s needs, he figured he’d hand over the controls to them instead of speaking on his own agenda.  Not all of us are speaking to audiences that will line up in droves to ask us questions, so the moral of the story is to go above and beyond the call of duty to serve the needs of your audience.  Maybe they’d rather see a demo instead of hearing you drone on about product specs.  Maybe you can even hand the controls over to them.  Just because you’re asked to “present” doesn’t mean you have to use slides and speak the whole time.  It’s a collaboration, not just a PowerPoint presentation.
  3. Do Something Fun (or Funny) Together – When you go to a concert, what do you expect to hear?  Of course some music, but what else?  Maybe a special guest joins the artist on stage?  Maybe a sing-a-long with the crowd?  At a recent Ben Fold’s concert, Ben decided to have some fun with his audience and log-on to ChatRoulette.com with his 2,000 or so audience members.  What resulted is one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in a while.  Steve Jobs knows how to add humor to his presentation too.  While showing how the Map function works on the iPhone, he found a local Starbucks, got the information, and prank-called the coffee shop by ordering “4,000 lattes to go, please.”  Don’t ever be afraid to inject humor into your presentation (where appropriate), even if it’s slightly self-deprecating.  Every audience member is a human being, and we all enjoy a laugh.
  4. Thank Your Audience – No Seriously, Thank Them! – Another anecdote I heard about Gary Vaynerchuck’s talk at SXSW was that he personally thanked audience members as they entered the room.  Regardless of how far he actually went with this, thanking your audience goes a long way.  They have taken time out of their day (and sometimes money out of their wallet) to hear you speak, and that’s very nice of them.  Don’t breeze through through your “thank you” with a single slide at the beginning or end of your presentation.  Go the extra mile(s).  Maybe that one hand you shake as they enter the room could mean the difference in winning or losing a sale.  I rarely see presenters making an honest effort to appreciate the audience in this way, so if you do so, you’ll be one of the few and will stand out in their minds.
  5. Don’t Use Any Words on Your Slides – What?  No words?  No bullet points?  How will my audience be able to learn anything if I’m not reading it to them?  It is science folks.  We, as humans, learn better when multiple senses are used as opposed to just one.  When you have a slide full of words, that’s NOT a visual input.  Reading and listening are using the same input, which is why I must tune my wife out when I’m reading news about my beloved Red Sox.  Seth Godin, a much respected author, speaker, and overall marketing guru, rarely uses text in his PowerPoints which contain easily over 100 slides.  Nearly all of his slides are images – full screen images – that act as a visual backdrop to his story.  Maybe you won’t be able to remove all of your words, but I bet you can remove 80% of them (replacing them with images) and you’ll drastically improve your presentation.  Maybe even hire a presentation designer to optimize your presentation visuals.  If this style of presentation design is good enough for Seth, shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

Some of these seem like common sense, while others seem over the top.  No matter what, employing these techniques will surely “wow” your audience, thus helping you spread your ideas, which is really what this is all about, right?

Image courtesy of TrevnC on Flickr

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  • Arthur Palac

    If you are speaking to an audience your slide deck should be of no use to them with out you being there to support the images or slides in your presentation. This is why you should take the time to create a handout for your audience with your main talking points, your message, and any action that needs to be taken.