Some people say that when it comes to presentations, I’m cynical or get bored easily (but I’m sure that your presentation is one of the few that I would find to be incredibly compelling). But I find many presentations:

  • Are boring and fail to hold my focus.
  • Try to cover too much ground.
  • Bury me with endless and highly detailed PowerPoint slides.
  • Don’t do enough to differentiate their major points from their minor ones.
  • Don’t really focus on the one, two or (at most) three take-away points I really want.
  • Sound too much like a college lecture as opposed to an entertaining conversation or dialogue in which I want to take part.
  • Forget that I would like some entertainment value too, please.

Too often the presenter knows their material cold, has terrific information to convey, but leaves the audience feeling bored and disappointed. Or worse, they fail to give them any take-away material that they can put to use.

Presenters tend to focus on trying to pack in as much information as they possibly can. This would be great if they were submitting a lengthy article for an academic journal. But presenters often fail to consider what audiences want to hear, how they want to hear it, and the inherent limitations in trying to convey that much information to average human beings.

Throw Out Your PowerPoint Slides

Did I mention I hate PowerPoint? I’d much rather see a few, very carefully selected words on a chalkboard or a whiteboard, or even slides made by your five-year-old child than a PowerPoint presentation. In fact, that last one might be pretty cool: telling your audience that you lost your PowerPoint slides but your child (or another young child) drew some alternative slides by hand. Do you think people might be interested in a presentation consisting of these drawings rather than another set of PowerPoint slides?

But if you absolutely must use PowerPoint, consider cutting the presentation down to a few simple slides, with minimal text.

Next, think about how you are going to involve your audience. Even if your audience knows your topic is important to them, they are humans and have other things on their minds with which you are competing.

Think carefully about how you can pull the audience in – vary the tone of your voice; inject a little humor; make a couple of really major points and then maybe a couple of minor points; stand on the chair; use a short story or two that quickly and dramatically illustrates your point; include a well-placed pause for emphasis now and then.

Go back and look at your presentation and think about how you can engage even the most easily bored and distracted members of your audience (someone like me, with a very, very short attention span). If you can keep those people engaged, you can keep everyone engaged.

It’s also important to remember: It’s not just what you say but how you say it.

I was once on a 20-plus city tour promoting one of my books and had to make the exact same presentation, word for word, at every stop. I used the same simplistic card stock poster boards, each of which had no more than 10 words and maybe a simple picture.

The response was totally different from one presentation to the next. In some cities, the audience didn’t respond at all. They just sat there during the presentation, seemingly unmoved, and they perfunctorily clapped at the end. Meanwhile in other cities, the audience laughed throughout the presentation, sat on the edge of their seats, and was practically hooting and hollering by the end. These presentations weren’t comedy shows, they were just about my experiences starting a small business.

After a while I figured out the difference in reactions wasn’t because of the audience, it was due to my delivery of the presentation. Just by changing where I paused, emphasizing certain words to let them sink in, and basically showing a huge amount of confidence, the audience became much more involved.

But remember not to cram too much into your presentation. Self-edit to allow yourself the ability to go through the material slowly. Also allow yourself time to really get the presentation down cold, beyond just memorizing the words (in fact a script is OK if you need it). But it’s the delivery – great pauses, great voice tone, great emphasis – that can make your presentation awesome.

If you think you are simply too nervous and afraid to talk in front of a group of people, I assure you that you can conquer this fear. I was scared to death and shaking as if I were in an earthquake when I made my first TV appearance. But now, several presentations later, I feel I can make a good presentation anywhere to anyone. If I can get past that scary start and make presentations, so can you.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • It doesn’t matter what you say if you haven’t grabbed the audience’s attention.
  • Focus on a few really impactful points.
  • How you say it can be more important than what you say.
  • Don’t hide behind your presentation aids.