7 Secrets to Making Great Presentations

Having planned and attended many conferences, I have seen my fair share of presentations. A handful were amazing, most were forgettable. Speakers spend weeks, even months crafting their performance. Yes, I call it a performance because they should be putting on a well-rehearsed show. A show that engages, conveys a message, and educates the audience. With today’s resources and technologies there is no longer an excuse to putting on a bad show.  In this post I am sharing 7 secrets to make your presentations great, based on firsthand planning, attending, and speaking experience. Follow these suggestions and you’ll be asked back time and time again, and receive referrals for other opportunities from your clients and attendees.

1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND EVENT GOAL

This should come as no surprise, knowing who will be attending your talk is the most important aspect of your speaking engagement – aside of your own expertise of course. The biggest blunder I have ever made was not knowing the audience. I was asked to speak for a group of professionals - I’ll keep the industry and group confidential here. The presentation was to leave attendees with tangible takeaways, resources and tips they could implement immediately at their jobs. Based on the group’s name I had assumed the audience had a certain level of expertise. Boy, was I wrong! After five minutes and a roomful of glazed-over faces I realized I was in deep trouble.  Had it not been for the salad and cheesecake in front of them, I am certain half of the audience would have left.

Through some questions I learned that the attendees were brand new to the industry, and had little or no experience in the field. My talk was definitely not tailored to their level of knowledge. Luckily, I was able to turn around the presentation with a joke. I started from scratch without using the prepared presentation. This was a rookie mistake, but a valuable lesson learned. 

Now I make sure to ask about the goal of the meeting and presentation, the audience’s experience level, and backgrounds, even their comfort level with technology. This helps me tailor my talk and the presentation tools I use, making each engagement unique and best-suited to the individuals in the room. 

2. USE THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY (AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT)

PowerPoint, Keynote and Google Slides are perhaps the most ubiquitous presentation tools used.  At heart, these are decent tools to present a message on a screen in slideshow format. Little though has changed over the years, and I have stepped away from using these types of tools when possible.

There are countless alternatives to creating more engaging presentations. I have used Prezi and Vyond (used to be GoAnimate). Prezi is about as far away from PowerPoint and Keynote as you can possibly get. It is an online tool that is based on the mind map concept, and provides a much more fluid presentation. Beware however, some audience members complain about getting motion sick watching a presentation created with Prezi, especially when used on a large screen. Vyond is a tool that allows you to present using animated video. Rather than going from slide to slide, Vyond lets you present using a professional looking video created from scratch in just minutes. Both tools have a free model. 

Other presentation tools available are PowToon, Slideshare, Canva, Slides, Visme, SlideCamp. Duurza allows you to push your presentation to your audience member’s devices so you can track engagement of your presentation. For presentations via mobile devices, use Haiku Deck.

Ask yourself; do you need a PowerPoint-style presentation? Can you engage the audience by drawing on a white board or tablet? Yes, at times slides may be a necessary tool to convey a message, but can you do without? Do you want people to focus on your talk or read slides?

When using slides, they should be simple, focusing on key words and big ideas only, not be your whole presentation. Your slides should enhance what you present, not be a carbon copy of what you are saying. As outlined in this article on Inc., Apple does a brilliant job with their presentations. Steve Jobs started this and it remains extremely effective; stick to one number or one word per slide.  

3. PROVIDE TANGIBLE TAKEAWAYS

Nothing is more boring than hearing a speaker drone on about a subject without passion. It is even worse when a presentation is a thinly veiled sales pitch. Attendees want to learn, ask questions, and engage with speakers. If you know who you are speaking to and what they want to learn, and you are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject, you are halfway there. 

My favorite thing is to ask attendees what they want to learn at the start of my presentation. I write their answers on a large whiteboard, or notepad. It is rare when I am not able to work in examples that address their specific questions. At the end of the session I repeat the questions and provide a brief recap of the answers. For larger groups or keynotes I will try to connect with a few attendees prior to speaking. This may provide a few anecdotes and questions I can then weave into my talk. It shows the audience I am not simply regurgitating a talk I’ve done hundreds of times before, but have taken the time to learn more about them, making the presentation about them.

I believe audiences want to learn how they can apply what they have learned to real situations at their job and in life. A few real-life examples help bring your show to the next level. You are providing tangible takeaways that can positively impact the lives of your audience members.




4. DRESS THE PART

Again, know your audience. If you’re presenting to a room full of bankers in suits, it is perhaps best to dress similarly.  Presenting to a room full of developers who come to work in shorts, flip-flops, and the obligatory AirPods will requires a different dress code. Your apparel conveys an important message to your audience. Are you one of them, can they trust your expertise? I can’t imagine a room of bankers taking someone in shorts and t-shirt seriously. Ask the person booking you what the dress code will be at the event or conference you are speaking at.

5. SHOWTIME

Don’t rely on the planner to get it all right. You are one of many cogs in the machinery of a conference. Check the room prior to speaking; test the equipment, sound, and stage. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings and the tools. Make friends with the Audio-Visual professionals. And last but not least, make sure your computer is plugged in, or that you have ample battery power to make it through the presentation, but seriously keep it plugged in. If you bring a Mac, make sure you bring all of the appropriate adapters to connect your computer to the AV equipment. 

Unless you need it for the presentation, turn off your Skype, instant messaging, mail pop-ups and other items that may distract you and the audience. The only program that should be running on your computer is your presentation software! If you are using engagement tools during your presentation for audience feedback, or allowing your attendees to use phones as microphones, familiarize yourself with these tools prior to presenting. 

And last, but not least; be gracious to your host and thank them for inviting you to speak.  

6. GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT AND GIVE CREDIT!

Only speak to facts! Don’t incorporate rumors and uncorroborated findings. If you are using other people’s quotes or findings, don’t pass them off as your own. Give credit when credit is due!

7. THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

How many times have you attended a luncheon presentation that was to end at 1:30 p.m. and you realize the speaker is only about halfway through the show? You stop focusing on the presentation. Good speakers stay within the allotted time and leave time for questions.

Many times, you will hear from attendees after a presentation. Some will reach out for advice; others may want to hire you. Respond to all of them! Your response may change their career; offer a solution to an issue. I love it when someone takes the time to write a personal note. Some offer feedback, some ask questions; others just share their stories. It’s incredibly flattering when someone takes the time to write you a personal note, and one must repay that courtesy.

8. BONUS TIP

Having been a meeting planner I’ve come across my fair share of self-important speakers. The speaker wanting the star treatment. It’s not about you, it’s about the attendees and how the dollars invested in you will benefit them, meet event goals and provide long term results.

Planners have on average 500 hours to pull off a medium-sized conference. Most of these hours are used on logistics, negotiations, vendors, sponsors, staff, attendees, contracting, design, programming, so how much time is left to deal with speakers?

Planners are also part of a large network and a speaker’s reputation gets around quite fast. Unless you are an in-demand speaker who can fill seats, planners don’t have much time to put up with this. So, the fix is to make it about the client, the attendees, how you can help them reach their goals. Keep that in mind in all your communications.

Same counts for showing up on time, communicating with the planner that you have arrived in town, or are at the venue. Show up on time for your AV test. Offer to stick around after your talk.  

IN WRAP UP

Keep the following things in mind to have a great show:

- Know your audience and goals of the event;
- Use technology wisely;
- Be passionate and engaging;
- Dress the part;
- Don’t forget to check the equipment;
- Use facts and give credit;
- End graciously;
- Make it about the customer, the attendee;

Stick to these facts and you’ll have a great show, and be asked back time and time again.

Want to learn how to best work with meeting planners and get booked more often. Sign up free to watch the replay of our webinar here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Having planned events and conferences all over the world, Al Wynant has worked with countless speakers, and has spoken at conferences and events on meeting planning, leadership and creativity.



This post originally appeared on Event Interface and has been updated with additional resources.