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17 Tips for More Powerful Presentations

After experiencing an awesome speaker line-up at the 2010 Annual Convention of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus — ranging from main stage presenters like Ben Stein, Dan Burrus and Suzy Welch, to showcase speakers like John Foley and Craig Kielburger — I came away impressed with eight tips for more powerful presentations… based on what some speakers did very well, and what some speakers could have done to make their presentations even better. (There were no bombs, thankfully!)

1. Humor does wonders to keep an audience awake and engaged, even through the heaviest content.

2. What do you want to do for you audience? Inform them? Motivate them? Inspire them? Entertain them? Influence them? Keep your desired end/outcome in mind as you design your presentation.

3. Don’t try so hard. Just relax and have a natural conversation with the audience — whatever your “natural” is. Let us see the real YOU.

4. The most successful speakers are always specialists, not generalists. (Plain english: Don’t be an “I can speak on whatever you want me to speak on” speaker. You’re better than that. Really.)

5. Don’t wear a business suit (men and women) just because “that’s how speakers dress.” Sometimes dressing differently can enhance your presentation and your connection with the audience. For instance, a speaker on innovation and creativity might be better off wearing jeans and an untucked shirt — if that feels natural and fits his/her personality and style.

6. As an attendee, I want you to show that you know who I am, what I care about, and how you’re going to help me as early as possible in your presentation — then I’ll be much more likely to stay tuned in throughout your presentation.

7. If your presentation includes lots of facts and figures, tell me why they matter to me before you start spewing them out.

8. Engage your audience as early as possible — it could be as simple as asking them to applaud a notable figure at the event or at their organization, or asking them to raise their hands in response to a question, or telling a joke that’s sure to hit home… Letting them just sit there is very likely to place a distance between you and your audience that you’ll never recover.

When I shared these eight tips with my Succeed Speaking newsletter subscribers, several responded with some great tips of their own…

From Gene Swindell:

“To add to your #8, go into the audience and ask questions or engage in dialog within the first few minutes. It removes the barrier between the platform and the audience immediately.”

From Murray Banks:

“I have a piece in my intro about living in the beautiful mountains of Vermont, so in the opening minutes I ask who has ever been there? Seen the fall colors? Had Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (made in VT)? Had real Maple Syrup? I then ask who has always wanted to, but hasn’t yet – then give that person a sample of syrup or maple candy; I often show a photo of my house layered in 5’ of snow. When the speaker shares some brief & humorous background with the audience, it builds a personal connection.”

“I dress like my audience dresses… While the President, CEO or planning team may be in suits, if the audience is in business casual, I do, too – but sharp.”

“Humor is good, self deprecating is even better. Speakers are generally ‘experts’ and successful, so any humor pointed at themselves brings them closer to their audience.”

“The value of having them raise their hands in response to a question has brain significance… People learn least effectively by listening, best by seeing & doing. ‘Raise your hand if you have ever…’ ‘Do you work with someone who is…’ are ways to incorporate kinesthetic learning; stories are another way to help them ‘feel’ the message. Images, photos, cartoons & video are fun ways to help them ‘see the message.”

“As you said, knowing your audience is critical… Personalizing requires significant research & pre-planning, not just inserting the clients’ name into a canned speech. My favorite compliment is ‘were you in our office last week?'”

From Carol Grace Anderson:

“If the speaker has a commonality with the audience, he/she should share it. It helps to create rapport. Ex.: On Friday I spoke to a large group of cancer research specialists in San Francisco. I mentioned that I lost my younger sister to breast cancer, and was glad to know that their expertise is making inroads in cancer treatment. They related to that!”

From Gary Bradt:

“To immediately engage my audience I don’t do any introductions or opening jokes; I just jump right into my opening story and ask them to guess who I am talking about. Works very well to get them engaged. And, the story sets the premise for the rest of my presentation.  Humor is a must, as is being yourself (including dressing in a way that you are comfortable). Letting them know early on you’ve done your homework and know what issues matter to them goes a long way too.”

From Milo Shapiro:

“Shawn, loved tip #5. I use improv games as part of my motivation speech on risk-taking, creative thinking, and change. A branding expert I know said, “Milo, your energy is about creating fun, insight, and lightness. Forget professionalism for a minute; the suit is stating the opposite of the energy you’re trying to create!” We looked at a few options and what I wear now is black pants, a BRIGHT solid shirt (usually cherry red or a vibrant green), and white braces. It’s a unique look that people remember. And the client who poo-poos my being out of a suit…well, they probably weren’t the best fit for me after all. Would rather book the client who sees that in the brochure and thinks, ‘He looks like fun!'”

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