I want my presentation to be engaging and memorable. I want the audience to remember me and my message. I want to be amazing!
Sound familiar? Sure. Who doesn’t want to be a killer presenter? But what if the following also rings a bell?
I’m talking about serious business issues, and I need to be taken seriously. My audience isn’t interested in anything “creative,” so don’t ask me to do anything weird.
Guess what. Your own reluctance is crushing your potential to get people engaged in and enthused about your message. If you want to show up, stand out, and stick in people’s memories, start with these three adjustments in the way you plan and deliver your presentations.
1. Give your audience a little credit.
Sure, you might face a roomful of people who are reserved, quiet, or serious. They might even be risk-averse, resistant to change, or total sticks in the mud. But fixating on those negatives limits you and them. Instead, focus on positive opportunities. What stokes their curiosity? What lights them up? What might loosen those sticks from their mud?
Beware, too, that you may be projecting your own fears on your audience. When I encourage speakers to turn questions around and ask the audience to answer, I often hear, “Oh no, I don’t want to put anyone on the spot. No one likes that.” Actually, some people live for the chance to speak up. And even shy people will pipe in for a conversation that matters to them.
Stop assuming the worst. Entertain the possibility that people want to participate.
2. Don’t plan to present; prepare for action.
Let’s say you have 30 minutes to convince a roomful of colleagues to try a new way of working. Most likely, your inclination is to draft a few talking points (and probably some PowerPoint slides) based on all the information you want to convey.
This one-sided approach is about you and what you want to say. You are planning—quite literally—to present. Ta da!
But communication takes (at least) two. For your message to have any impact, you need to move your audience in some way: to think, to believe, to do.
You need them to “verb.”
So, instead of planning what you will present, plan what your audience will do. Think in action verbs. Assign a timeframe to each action, and you’ve got yourself a practical plan for that 30-minute pitch. For instance, you might allow five minutes for everyone to discuss shortcomings of the current process, eight minutes for them to observe while volunteers demonstrate the new process, and so on.
Know what you want your audience to do, so you can create an experience that leads them to action.
3. Bring your real self to the room.
You know how method actors Daniel Day Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, and Christian Bale transform themselves into someone else? You need to do the opposite. As a business presenter, you need to be wholly and truly you.
Presumably, the reason you’re presenting is because your subject matter is your comfort zone. You know that stuff, inside and out (not just because you’re smart, but because you rehearse). Trust your knowledge, and trust your instincts about how to share it.
The agenda might say you’ll be talking about “relationship building and solution selling.” But that doesn’t really sound like you, does it? Share your message as only you can—with your stories, your words, your personality.
I recently asked a client to distill his 90-minute selling skills workshop down to one key take-away. “For years, I’ve been telling people the same thing,” he said. “Show up and bring something of value, even if it’s just a box of donuts.” That simple, solid advice, stated in his casual, everyday words, became the centerpiece of a useful, memorable presentation.
Being yourself isn’t radical. It’s relaxing for you and refreshing for your audience.
What difference will these three suggestions make in the way you engage an audience? That really depends on how you embrace them.
- Giving your audience a little credit could lead you to stop “planting” questions and instead pass a mic for open Q&A. It could also mean asking volunteers to role play a customer service scenario, improv-style.
- Planning for action, not presentation, could prompt you to shrink your slide deck down to three instructive slides. Or it could drive you to ditch the slides altogether and instead engage everyone in a design thinking exercise.
- Being yourself could mean comparing your project to your mom’s potato salad, or surprising everyone by riding in on a unicycle, juggling gym shoes, and singing opera.
None of these suggestions is weird. Okay, maybe that last one. But all of them are creative. And every one of them is a risk worth taking if you’re serious about your message.