Have you been to a conference recently and been bored rigid by some of the speakers? Are you giving a presentation at a forthcoming conference? Here are some great ways to liven up your pitch and avoid boring your audience to tears:
1. Throw away PowerPoint. PowerPoint presentations are the norm but are they the best way to communicate your message? The trouble with them is that they lock you into a straitjacket – you have to follow what is written on the screen. The audience reads the slides and it does not listen to you. Most PowerPoint presentations have too many slides with too much information on each. It becomes a dreary list. Try to condense your message into a small number of key points and then deliver them from the heart – eye to eye with the audience – and with very few or no slides at all.
2. Speak from the Heart. Nothing persuades like passion – so be passionate about your message. Personal stories and strong feelings can sway audiences much more than dry facts and statistics. Of course if you can back up your personal feelings with supporting data then so much the better. But start from the personal – how it relates to you and how it relates to them – the audience. Lessons from personal experience that are relevant to their lives and careers are interesting and powerful ways of holding their attention.
3. Use Humour. Many speakers shy away from humour because they worry the jokes may fall flat. But it is generally a risk worth taking. Audiences appreciate a speaker who tries to entertain rather than just inform. Choose your humorous lines carefully and then rehearse the words and timing so that you can deliver them with confidence. Self-deprecating jokes are safe bets. Making a joke about some well-known figure at the conference can work well too but it is wise to check with them first. Of course racist, sexist or offensive material should always be avoided.
4. Walk the Talk. One of the great things about not using a slide presentation is that you do not have to hide behind a lectern pressing the mouse. You can roam the stage. As you walk you should look straight at the audience and ensure eye contact with people. This delivers energy and conviction that can never be achieved from behind a lectern.
5. Vary your Pitch. Many speakers deliver their talks in a monotone – same pace, same volume, same tone throughout. The audience will find it much more interesting if you deploy variety in your style of speech. Your tone should be rich and clear – louder and softer as needed. Sometimes the most powerful points can be delivered in a very quiet voice – with the audience breathless to hear. One of the most potent and underused weapons in the speaker’s armoury is the pause. Used with effect it can build the anticipation, impact and retention of a key message.
6. Keep it Simple. Tell them what they are going to hear and why it is important. E.g. ‘I am going to give you four key messages that will enable you to double your market share this year.’ Then tell them. Finally summarise and reprise the main points. Finish with a strong and motivational summary. Long, complex presentations may appear sophisticated but often they will lose the audience and little is retained. The best presentations engage the audience with clear messages that are inspirational, powerful and easily remembered.
Paul Sloane is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills, published by Kogan Page. He talks on leadership, innovation and lateral thinking.