10 presentation tips to keep your audience engaged

Delivering a presentation at a conference or event is a tremendous opportunity to share your innovative ideas, business or product to a big audience.

That said, if your presentation isn’t creative, engaging and fresh, it won’t matter how significant your content is. You’ll probably be sharing the stage with many other presenters throughout the day, which is why creative presentation planning and delivery is absolutely key to ensuring yours is the most memorable.

Here are ten of our favourite tips to make your conference or event presentation stand out for all the right reasons.

1. Three is the magic structure

If you want the key messages of your presentation to linger in the heads of your audience well after the conference has concluded, try structuring your overall message into three clear, concise and engaging points.

Various psychological studies over the last century have asserted that three is the optimal number of points or values to group together for attention and recall.

By narrowing your presentation down to three key points that you want your audience to remember, and cutting out anything superfluous, your presentation will be more succinct and memorable.

2. Try audience participation technology

Audience participation is and always has been a central method of holding attention and engaging people during a presentation. That said, not everyone wants to get up on stage, stand up and speak, or even participate. 

Interactive Q&A sessions are also a useful and non-intrusive way to gather data from your own audience and respond to or analyse it directly.

Clever apps have been developed allowing audiences to participate and share quantitative information from their seats through their mobile or laptop. 

Running a poll? Why not get them to answer live on their mobile and select yes, no or other answers? Your results can even be displayed live on your screen in real time. Other audience response systems such as OMBEA can also be used with smartphones, tablets and laptops to assist live polls.

3. Holograms and other creative visual stimuli

Holograms are no longer restricted to science fiction. Depending on the purpose of your presentation, you may wish to deliver an extra wow factor that simple visual slides and videos may not be able to. 3D holographic projection technology is growing in popularity, and gradually becoming more accessible, as presenters aim to deliver more memorable experiences for their audiences. 

If holograms aren’t suitable, cost-effective or feasible for your presentation, as an absolute minimum, you should aim to only use HD quality imagery and video that is relevant, and clear, without taking too much attention away from your own words.

4. Well placed humour creates memories

Humour is the secret weapon of just about any presenter, providing the tone and purpose of the presentation is compatible.

If your audience is smiling or laughing, it usually means they are more relaxed, more engaged and more likely to pay attention to you. 

Being funny doesn’t mean cracking jokes, either. You don’t want to treat your presentation as a stand-up gig but injecting some personality and light-heartedness can go a long way to making you stand out.

5. Don't just read the slides

The majority of presentations at conferences or events will be accompanied by visual slides. These are obviously very important for delivering visual information.

A common mistake made during a presentation is for the presenter to simply read or describe the content of the slides directly. Unless you are reiterating key points, simply reading the slides that your audience can already see is a wasteful use of presentation time, as your audience will either already be reading it, or worse, it will make you look unprepared. It can then become a distraction.

Instead, your words should be the main source of additional information. If you have a graph on your slide, you should add context and further explanation rather than simply describe it. 

For similar reasons, refrain from including too much text on your slides. They should be clear, concise and not distracting. Ideally, try restricting each slide to 20 words or less.

6. Remember the 10-20-30 rule

If you are using slides for your presentation, you should try and stick to the 10-20-30 rule. This rule was developed by Guy Kawasaki, who was chief technology evangelist for Apple for four years, and is now an established author, who states the following about any PowerPoint presentation.

  • The presentation should have no more than 10 slides
  • The presentation should last no longer than 20 minutes
  • The font used should be no smaller than 30 points 

Kawasaki stated that no normal person can absorb more than 10 slides in a meeting, and that these should take no more than 20 minutes to work through, especially during a busy event where the audience will be absorbing a lot of information from elsewhere.

Your presentation may need to deviate from this in one way or another, but as a rule of thumb, it is good to stick to the 10-20-30 rule where you can.

7. Make use of the full stage

Apple’s Steve Jobs was well known as one of the most engaging and popular presenters of the 21st century. Watching his product reveals, you see that he is never static. He makes full use of the stage, moving from side to side and utilising gestures to make his ideas and words seem bigger. 

If you spend the duration of your presentation stood behind a podium without moving away from it, the audience may have more difficulty maintaining attention.

People pay more attention to things that are moving, and you, as a presenter, are no exception.

8. Tell a real story

Your presentation is essentially a story you are telling your audience. Your story may relate to your aims, activities, findings, analysis and looking forward to the future. It may not be Harry Potter, but effective presentations often utilize a classic storytelling model, featuring a beginning, middle and end.

Alex Blinkoff wrote a blog exploring this concept in the context of real presentations and public speaking, and we think it is an excellent way to improve the delivery and memorability of your own presentation.

9. Use your best voice (and face!)

The most fascinating presentation of the day can quickly become the dullest if the speaker doesn’t sell it with their tone of voice, facial expressions and mannerisms. Remember, you are selling your product, findings or ideas on a particular topic. If you look bored, uncomfortable or disinterested, you can bet your audience will too.

Try practising at home in front of your mirror and experiment with the volume, tone and speed of your talking, as well as your facial expressions. You should aim to look, talk and behave like someone who you would want to hear more from.

10. Ditch the slides?

This won’t apply to every presentation, but how many slides in a presentation are absolutely necessary or truly beneficial to the overall message? Think about whether your slides are actually adding real value or are just there arbitrarily.

Do not be afraid of cutting down on your slides. If you only need one or two graphs of data to be shown, why clutter your presentation with more? Between the important visuals, why not fill the visual gap by revisiting your presentation title?

Steve Jobs famously said: “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint”, which makes an important point on how slides are often perceived by audiences. 

Consider cutting out any unnecessary slides and see how much more engaged your audience is with you as a person, instead of them.

Looking for more ideas?

There are countless more tricks you can use to make your presentation stand out from the crowd. This article is the first part of a new series we will be publishing to help people improve the quality of their presenting across a variety of conference and event types.

Academic Venue Solutions offers a number of inspiring conference and venue spaces, such as York Conferences, where you can use the amazing ‘3Sixty’ audio visual facilities and much more.

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