How to Make Your Presentations Stand Out

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly out in public, pitching your ideas, products or services to clients, prospects and anyone else who will listen. Best of all, sometimes you're invited to speak about your area of expertise. You can significantly increase your probability of success by using a few techniques to engage your audience to action.

Make it about them. Gear your presentation to what your audience wants to know: how your ideas can help them relieve their pain and improve their life. Most presentations are full of information the speaker thinks the audience should know--with far more detail than anyone cares about. So keep it simple. Share a handful of key, pertinent facts; tell a story or two that helps them understand these key features or benefits; and then help them apply their new understanding to their specific situation. When you show how much you care about the audience, they will care about what you say.

Get out and about. As a speaker, you need to build a connection with your audience, and you can't create rapport behind a lectern, table, chair or anything else that comes between you and your audience. If you need a place for your notes, you can still stand beside the lectern and glance at your notes when necessary.

Keep the lights on. Multimedia projects now have enough lumens (at least 2,500) to project your slideshow without turning the house lights down. So do us all a favor and stop standing in the dark. People want to hear what you have to say, and they want to see you while you're saying it.

Use visuals. Contrary to popular belief, PowerPoint is not your only option, even though it's the visual of choice for many boardroom presentations. You can tap into other visuals to enhance your message. Among them are props, models, prizes and gifts. Any time you use a visual (including PowerPoint), you should ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does it enhance (vs. detract from) the point I am making?
  2. Is it focused and customized for my audience?
  3. Am I using enough visual variety to keep my audience interested?

If the answer is yes to all three questions, keep it. If not, you may want to rethink the use of that particular visual.

Have a mini-conversation. As you begin your talk, look at a friendly face in the audience and stay with that person for a sentence or two, or until you complete a thought. Allow yourself enough time to connect with that person--typically, three to five seconds. Then move to someone else in the room, distributing your mini-conversations smoothly and deliberately throughout the room, without being too predictable as to where you will go next.

Ask a meaningful question. One way to engage in a meaningful conversation with the audience is to ask an engaging question. Then be silent and wait for the answer. Most speakers get nervous and answer their own question, which severely limits interaction. If you pause for one or two seconds and look like you are expecting a response, someone will answer you.

Take a poll. Especially during technical presentations to left-brained engineers, lawyers and physicians, take a poll, conduct an on-the-spot survey or present a quiz to stimulate discussion and showcase the diversity of thought within the room. Most presenters simply ask for a show of hands, but there are many ways to poll an audience:

  1. Thumbs. Have those who agree with the point you just made show you a thumbs up and those who don't, a thumbs down. A sideways thumb can mean "undecided." 
  2. Stand up. Ask those in agreement or who find the statement to be true to stand up. Those who find your statement to be false can remain seated. 
  3. Noise. Clap to agree and stomp to disagree. Or, if confidentiality is important, ask those who agree to hum. You'll find those who are passionate will hum loudly. 
  4. Shout. Say "of course!" if you agree and "No way!" if you don't. The volume can also show the strength of the person's commitment. 
  5. Response cards. Ask participants to select and hold up the appropriate color-coded card/paper that signifies their response. This is ideal for multiple-choice questions or those with a range of responses (e.g., high, medium, low). 
  6. Continuum. Have one side of the room take one stance (definitely) and the other side the polar opposite (no way), or think of your own clever scale. 
  7. Polling technology. Consider using the ubiquitous cell phone to text or tweet the answers, or use an audience response system to display the answers directly into your PowerPoint presentation.

When you engage and involve the audience in your presentation, people will trust you more, they will feel more connected to your message, and they will be inspired to take action. So go ahead: Ask for the order, get their commitment to change that policy or be assured that they will continue doing business with you.

Kristin Arnold is on a mission to make all presentations more engaging, interactive and collaborative through her new book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve, and Inspire Your Audience to Action.