Hi. I deliver presentations for a living, primarily because nobody wants to work with me for a full eight hours every day. Sometimes I get invited to lunch, but that’s about as far as it goes. I’ve tried making friends on the plane to and from my presentations, but those stupid noise-cancelling headphones have made it hard to strike up conversations. I’m actually writing this on a plane right now, and the guy next to me is snoring. You are free to envy me.
But I digress. The point is, I deliver presentations for a living, and it’s possible that you have to do so occasionally yourself. If so, then you know that there are basically two reactions you can get out of an audience:
- They can hang on your every word, alert and engaged, maybe even smiling and/or laughing
- They can slump bonelessly in their chairs, hiding their phones under the table while they struggle mightily to convince others that they’re actually paying attention
I know you want the second reaction. So here are a collection some of my favorite presentation techniques, culled from experiences in my life that were so boring I almost hurled myself out the window just to break up the monotony. Pay careful attention!
Don’t check the batteries!
Nothing says, “This is going to be a fast-paced and engaging presentation!” quite like spending the first five minutes talking into a dead microphone, checking the switch, calling up a friend to check the switch with you, then sitting and waiting for somebody to get a fresh pair of batteries. It’s as riveting as watching somebody watch paint dry.
Don’t test your embedded video or Internet connection!
Long ago I decided never to use audio or video as a part of my PowerPoint presentations – partially because I could get away with it, and partially because I had seen too many technology failures to be comfortable with it. If you control your own A/V set-up, then this won’t be a problem. If you’re using someone else’s, though, you’d better check to make sure everything is working.
Set your computer to automatically download new updates!
Most updates require your computer to restart, and there’s no better time for that to happen than in the middle of your presentation.
Let people know that you’re nervous!
One of the nicest things about delivering presentations is that nobody has any idea what you’re going to say. You can wander wildly off topic, get into a useless tangential story about your grandmother’s gambling habit, and then meander back to your main argument without anyone thinking anything of it – unless you give yourself away by saying something like, “Where was I?” or “Sorry – I’m kind of nervous.” Then they’ll know you don’t know what you’re saying, and that’s when the phones will come out.
Why should you? I mean after all, you know how to talk to people – you’ve been doing it your whole life. And delivering a presentation is really no different than talking to a friend. Except that there’ll be a few hundred of them. And you’ll be the only one talking.
Rely heavily on audience participation!
Most audiences don’t want to do anything at all besides sit, listen, and move on. I’ve presided over Q&A panel discussions of industry experts where literally no one in the audience asked a single question, and the only reason we didn’t all stand there like idiots for 30 minutes is because I had some back-up questions ready and waiting for that exact thing. Even seasoned improv professionals sometimes have a difficult time getting their audiences to play along. Keep that in mind before you expect your audience to do your job for you.
Delivering a killer presentation really isn’t too difficult as long as you practice and throw in just enough laughs to keep people wondering what you’ll say next. But if I dedicated this article to telling you how to do everything right, it would have only been 41 words long. It’s not my fault that screwing things up allows for more amazing details. That’s just the world we live in.