On average I speak about 40 times a year at conferences, events and in-house training. When I am speaking at conferences, I always like to sit in on other speakers to pick up industry knowledge, and see how other presenters refine their craft.
What Great Presenters Have in Common
Your presentation slides are an extension of your content.
I’ve noticed that “great” presenters have remarkably similar things in common. Some of those things are more obvious than others, but for the most part, really good presenters carry a common thread that separate them from the kinds of presenters who are on the ‘next tier’ – The ones that lack similar things that prevent them from being as fully effective as they could be.
These next 5 steps all come from my observations at conferences and what I believe separate the “good” from the “great.”
1. Your presentation slides are an extension of your content.
Your slides are not the primary communicator of content – you are. You are the one who has the message and the data, not the screen. Your slides are there to enable others to see information that assists you in the presentation. When slides are used as the primary source of information, it leads to reading slides and overloaded bullet points, which no one considers fun. Placing too much information on the slide makes it unreadable and unfocused. It is your job as the presenter to keep the focus on you and your knowledge, and use your presentation to walk the audience through the content.
2. People connect emotionally.
A shared trait that successful presenters employ is the ability to create an emotional connection through the use of images. Stock photos and clip art are not simply for filling a blank space or showing an activity that people already understand. Images are powerful, and to release that power is to create an emotional connection with the audience that will stir up feelings. Great speakers are able to create emotional triggers through their use of images that cause the audience to retain and remember the information.
When I create a presentation I look for images that communicate the feeling or the idea I want to express. For example, in creating a presentation about the day-to-day repetitive nature of a task, an image of a hamster running in a wheel was appropriate to connect a common expression to exposing a common practice, which was a critical point to establish in the presentation. My intent was to create an emotional response and show people that part of their weekly and monthly tasks that might seem important, in the end accomplish just as much as a hamster in a wheel. Making that connection and seeing the acknowledgement on the part of the audience enables me to know the point is made, and I can build on that to make the next point.
3. Reinforce Concepts.
At one time, Most of my slides were images, but then I realized that I needed to reinforce key concepts using words too. Words are amazing, and if used correctly, then can impact an audience. I’ve now integrated key word concepts into my presentations in ways that allow the audience to take in the words on the slide, while hearing the concept at the same time. The more ways that people interact with a concept, the more they will retain it.
Reading, hearing and seeing the word in context allows different types of people, who learn in many different ways, to take in the point you are trying to make. This also brings in a little bit of art and design in developing these clear word associations and presentations. Some people are primarily visual learners, some are primarily auditory, some are tangible and manipulative – They need to “handle” the content. Developing clear word pictures that work alongside your content and expressively communicate your ideas reinforces each of these learning types, and everyone benefits by expressing multiple methods of delivering one idea.
Be careful of stretching illustrations and stories to0 thin to make them fit your content. I see this when speakers use popular “memes” in their presentations. The problem with taking a meme that already has an association is that you are attempting to take an object or image that already has significant emotional and tangible “weight” and then trying to displace the accepted connection and replace it with an association to your content. This is a difficult task, and rarely works as well as it is assumed. It might be entertaining, but it also may be giving the audience a complete distraction and disassociation from your content. Be careful of using images and concepts that already have their own identity, as they may supersede your intended point.
4. Invest in your content, invest in your audience.
Great presenters always seem to have the right graphic, image and concept to fit the content. A great presenter is able to use video ever so subtly, and it is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the presentation. There is never a technical issue, it’s not a surprise, and the speaker goes right back into the content without missing a beat. The video was a side helping, not a main course. It assisted the presenter in making a point, and carried the content along the same narrative. Investing in the presentation creates credibility, professionalism and satisfaction with the audience, knowing that the presenter has taken the time to hone their craft.
I recently attended a keynote speaker address and was impressed at the content, but disappointed in the presentation. In fact, I believe that the credibility of the speaker could have been greatly improved simply by a better use of images. You see, the images he used throughout were mostly low-resolution, pixelated or low quality images. As a result, his presentation had a cheap, copy-and-paste look. Take the time to search for and pay for hi-res images that fill the screen and present a lush, clear image. If your photos are cheap, low resolution or pixelated when projected on a large screen, it will not create the full impact on the audience. Show them that you care by investing in the things that supplement your presentation nicely.
5. Don’t use notes.
You’ll notice that the best speakers you see never use notes. You’ll never see them rustling about with papers, or turning to the next page. That is because the best speakers are so intimate with their knowledge of the content, and are able to read the faces of the crowd so accurately, that they know when to reinforce the point or keep moving on. Speakers that are on the verge of being great are the ones that are struggling to let the notes go. Your confidence in your material is shown in your presentation. Focusing on your notes takes away from your communication with the audience and is a barrier to your effectiveness.
A panelist once asked me what they could do to be a better presenter, so I took their notes. At first they were nervous and fully expected to go down in flames. What happened next was extraordinary. They blossomed. They were intent on the information presented on the screen and were able to spend time reading the faces and reactions of the audience. Afterwards, they admitted their over-dependance on their notes, though not without some excitement. It was like being pushed into the deep end – it’s scary at first, but a much better experience. I’m not advocating stealing the notes away from every presenter you see – this was a very good friend, but be confident in your own knowledge and ability and don’t let your notes be a barrier between you and your audience.
Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN.
As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.