Why do we continue to see so many dull, lifeless presentations? I’ve thought a lot about this problem, but the #1 reason is that speakers seem to think it’s enough just to inform an audience.
But it is not. Audiences want to be entertained.
Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
Some may find that notion objectionable, but it’s the truth.
There’s a reason we watch and share all those TED Talks. They’ve set the standard for what a speech should be — focused, compelling, visual — and they’ve raised the bar for every speaker.
It’s true that we may not all reach TED Talk heights. And that’s especially true if you’re presenting on, say, wastewater treatment solutions or supply chain management strategy.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to do better. You can apply those same principles to improve any presentation.
6 Steps to a Killer Presentation
I write and speak a lot about the 11 Deadly Presentation Sins, and I’m often asked if I can narrow it down to three or four things speakers should focus on. My answer changes every time because, honestly, it’s not that simple.
But here are six things you can do to create and deliver a more powerful presentation:
1. Figure Out What Your Audience Wants
This speech is not about you — it’s about them. Find out as much as you can about the people you’re talking to. Get an understanding of their interests, needs, fears and doubts. And make sure you answer their Number One question: “What’s in it for me?”
2. Have Just One Goal for Your Speech
Ask yourself what you want your audience to do, and use that as a filter. Narrow your content to just a few key points that support that goal, and cut anything that doesn’t. Be merciless about it.
3. Tell Stories
Study after study confirms that stories are an unmatched tool for persuasion. Stories trump data, they trump facts, they trump logic. Learn to find, shape and tell great stories. Start with a story, end with a story, include stories in the middle. Seriously. Story, story, story. (I hope that’s clear.)
4. Invest Your Arguments with Emotion, Passion and Energy
Honestly, if you’re not excited about your topic, how do you expect us to be? Cool professional detachment is not a good strategy in a speaking situation. Everything must be heightened: your focus, your intensity, your volume and your gestures. Play to the back of the room. And remember, emotion sells.
5. Make Your Visuals Truly Visual
Your audience didn’t come to read a screen, they came to see you present. So ditch the tired old PowerPoint deck. Get rid of all those bullet points. Use big headlines with a strong point of view. Find evocative images that reinforce your message instead of distracting from it. And whatever you do, ignore the stupid formulas like the 6/6 rule (6 lines of text per slide, 6 words per line) and strive for three-to-five words per slide, max.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Do not make the mistake of thinking that too much rehearsal will suck the life and spontaneity out of your talk. There is no such thing as over-rehearsal. Practice it again and again, out loud and on your feet. That’s the only way to internalize the content. (It’s also the only way to know how long your talk is, and going over your allotted time may be the worst sin of all!)
Your Audience Will Thank You
Those are the basics. There’s certainly more you can do. You should manage the all-important first and last impressions by opening and closing strong. You should create an interactive experience so it’s not all lecture. And you should understand and manage body language — yours and your audience’s.
But if you take care of these six things, you will automatically stand out from the crowd of dull, ordinary presenters and build your reputation as a trusted expert — one that people actually want to hear from.
And you’ll earn the undying gratitude of throngs of conference attendees like me who are fed up with the status quo.
(A version of this post originally ran on LinkedIn.)