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10 Tips to Ace Your Next Presentation

October 5, 2018

If you’ve got a story to tell or an idea to sell, it is crucial that you can explain your narrative and engage others in a way that not only leaves them understanding your message, but embracing it. And, with nearly 1.25 million presentations given every hour, oftentimes slides are the best vehicle for your story. How can you ensure your presentation is engaging and compelling enough to get the job done?

I’ve got you.

Here are 10 tips to ensure your next presentation knocks their socks off.

How to engage your audience, create compelling content and deliver a polished presentation



1. Know your audience. 

At the end of the day, if your idea does not resonate with the people you’re presenting to, you’ve failed. They hold the power, because you need them more than they need you. With that in mind, use their goals and prerogatives to determine your angle when presenting your story.

Questions to ask yourself as you put together your presentation narrative:

  • What does a day in the life of your audience members look like?
  • Why should they care about what you’re presenting?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • How can you help?
  • What do you ideally want them to do?
  • What concerns might they have about that?

Knowing people – really knowing them – makes it easier to influence them.

2. Define your ONE main idea.

Your one key message should drive all decisions about what content to include, which stories to tell, which data to highlight and what your call to action should be.  

Remember too that you should bring to the table a unique perspective, thoughtful analysis or constructive opinions. By that I mean if you intend to present facts, figures or results alone with no additional commentary…what’s the point?

If all of the information is in the spreadsheet, isn’t it better to send the data in an email?

Think of it this way…if someone were to ask you, “hey you, what’s your presentation about?” it’s not enough to just say, “oh, it’s about instagram.”

That’s a topic, not a big idea. There’s no personality behind it. And DEAR GOD it sounds potentially boring as hell.

– BUT –

If you said, “oh, it’s about how you can stop stressing over an Instagram plateau and easily add 1,000 followers in a month by using targeted hashtags, consistent themes and the know-like-trust system…” I’m there.

This uses an idea Nancy Duarte references often. She says that people inherently move away from pain and towards pleasure. First, force them to acknowledge their current uncomfortable situation – so, I want you to STOP stressing (wasting time, losing clients & revenue, etc. – your pain) – and then lure them toward you & your proposed solution with encouragement & rewards – ADD followers (save time, make more money, book your dream client, etc.)

Make sure each slide supports your main idea in some way and isn’t a tangent or distraction from the point you are ultimately trying to make.

But wait! My tangent is relevant and compelling you say! I get that. Put that slide in your appendix (so if you have extra time or a question comes up you can pull it out of your back pocket), put together a handout highlighting that information or put it in your follow up email.


3. Tell a Story.

Your presentation should be based on facts, yes. But you must strike a balance between data & storytelling in order to create something truly engaging. Countless studies have shown that ultimately consumers make purchases & evaluate brands based on emotions, not facts.

Storytelling will help you to elicit emotional responses from your audience – gaining their trust, capturing their attention and forming a connection with them.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few examples from the pros:

This one inspiring speaker & entrepreneur you may have heard of, Oprah, uses a technique for her narratives that follows a specific pattern to introduce a relatable hero who conquers adversity & ultimately learns a valuable lesson.  If your story lends itself to a three-part structure, try this:

  • What is the trigger event? A humbling instance where everything goes wrong, failure occurs or your behind the 8-ball?
  • What is the transformation? How did you rise above failure and what positive outcomes followed suit?
  • What is the life lesson? What did you learn from your situation?

Peter Guber, an executive behind films like Clue & Batman, also adheres to building a story in three parts. Take your presentation topic and answer these questions:

  • What is a challenge you can present based on your topic? Grab your audience’s attention with a challenge or question.
  • What is the struggle around that challenge? Evoke empathy from your listeners as you describe the difficulties that will eventually be overcome.
  • What is the resolution and call to action?


4. Address their Concerns.

As a presenter, you are asking your audience to essentially change their beliefs or behavior, right? You want them to adopt your strategies, buy your product, change their routines, etc. And that can put people on the defensive.

It means change, and most people loathe change.

Fear not! This just means you need to put yourself in their shoes, and address any pushback you may receive. If you can anticipate their resistance ahead of time, you can proactively address concerns and open your listeners up to being more receptive to your narrative because hey, you get them.

Here are the most common types of resistance & how you can prepare to tackle them:

  • Logical resistance – these are the skeptics. The ones who read an article that says the opposite of what you’re preaching. So do your homework. Be able to refute points of view that have no factual standing & explain your thoughts on different points of view that are sound.
  • Emotional resistance – are you asking a store that has a dedicated beef jerky section & deer heads on the wall to buy your faux leather handbags at a premium price point because of your strong belief in animal protection? You see where I’m going with this.
  • Practical resistance – this is perhaps the most common form of pushback you’ll see.  Will it be physically, geographically or financially difficult for audience members to do what you are asking? Will it require a sacrifice from them? Additional work on top of their current workload?

Always address the elephant in the room.

It shows you get where they’re coming from. And, if at all possible, let them know you’ve felt this pinch before too, you get it, you’ll be sacrificing alongside them, etc.


5. Let the audience be the hero.

Look at your audience as the “hero” of your key message. Your job then is to find a way to help them see themselves in that light so that they want to help you power your idea further.  People don’t like to be asked to put more on their plate – for most, the daily juggle is hard enough already. [Moms out there, can I get an Amen?]

But boy do people love saving the day.

Stroke their ego & let them feel like they are the bee’s knees. You’ll get what you need from them & they’ll feel great about it – it’s a win win.

How do you get them into that role? Give them insights that empower them & make them feel knowledgeable on the subject; present them with a “gift” [by that I mean a new system that will save them time, an outline of how you will lower costs, the promise of increased sales or new leads, etc.]. Once they feel qualified, you’ll need to provide them with as many tools as possible to make their role of hero as seamless as possible – these would be things like timelines, support, training, 1 on 1 service, etc. Anything that enables them to reach the objective.


6. Lay off the Jargon [and the fluff]


Do you know how often I read an about page on a website or someone’s offerings and services, re-read it, and still have NO IDEA what it says?

The second someone checks out of your presentation, it is incredibly hard to reign them back in. So make sure your grandmother, your kid sister and the person behind you in the check out line would understand your slides.

Also, a PSA for adjectives everywhere: use them with purpose. Your authentic, bespoke, genuine, guaranteed [insert thing here] for hustlers like a boss lost me while I went to google bespoke and fell down a rabbit hole of spas and hipster bars.


7. Be the Expert.

DO. THE. WORK. This means you should know your content well enough not to read off of the slide or use it as a crutch. Your verbal presentation should compliment the slide content, not repeat it.

Otherwise, you could have just emailed the presentation to your audience with the Subject Line: Read Me.

You should also be well versed enough to handle a rogue question, comment or tangent and get the conversation back to your presentation – and your big idea – quickly and smoothly.


8. Give them the Snippet.

I always find it helpful to cull down your information into just a handful of main facts.  If you had to get your point across in 5 sentences, could you do it? What would they be?

If your audience had to put out one tweet about your idea, what would it be?

Give them the 140 character version of your presentation, the sound clip, the few facts or stats or morsels of information that are the backbone of your narrative.

When they leave the room, what three things do you want them to remember?


9. CUT. it. Out.

Edit. And then practice it again. And then edit.  I found this bit from the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations interesting:

“Audiences can process only one stream of information at a time. They’ll either listen to you speak or read your slides – they won’t do both simultaneously…Let’s say you’re using the default template in PowerPoint, and you completely fill the field that says “Click to Add Text” each time you create a slide. That field holds about 80 words, and the average reading speed is 250 words per minute. So, if you develop 40 text-heavy slides for a 40 minute presentation, people will miss about 13 minutes (one-third!) of your talk just because they’re too busy reading your slides to listen.”

Edit your slides so that each one: a) aligns with your big idea, b) has one idea per slide and c) is able to be understood within three seconds.


10. A Clear Call to Action. 

Finally, make sure that you clearly communicate what you want the audience to do. What are the next steps?

You might ask everyone to take the same one action (like to implement a new pinterest strategy or to stock your product on their shelves) or you might give them a few options to choose from, such as buying your product, promoting your product to their audience or creating a mutually beneficial partnership together.

And there you have it! You’re gonna do great, I just know it.

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