From Bored Room to Board Room:
How to Give More Engaging Presentations

See also: Presenting to Large Groups

It’s 4:30pm on a Friday, and you’re stuck in an airless meeting room listening to the finance team give their routine status update. Their slide deck is full of charts and figures that might be relevant to your work, they aren’t making it clear why you should care, and you just can’t stay focused.

When their presentation is over, you thank them and get up from the table - and immediately forget all of the ten action items they presented to you.

Sound familiar? The above scenario is not only frustrating, it’s bad business. When a presentation falls flat, everyone’s time is wasted. When the audience has to work to pay attention or see why they should care, the speaker loses. On the other hand, we all know an effective presentation can launch the success of an idea, a career, or indeed an entire company, let alone keep people’s attention on a Friday afternoon update meeting.

How can you keep your audience from nodding off and instead get them to nod along with your ideas?

Take a look at these tips that will help you give more engaging, memorable, and effective presentations.

Tell the Story Behind the Data

Do you remember all the details of last quarter’s fiscal report?

What about the stories your parents read to you as a child?

Your favourite children’s books were probably a lot simpler than your annual sales figures, but the fact remains that a compelling narrative can stick with you for years. In the context of movies and TV shows, stories give people a reason to stay tuned—in the context of business presentations, stories get your audience invested in your content.

Bring numbers to life by providing human examples that correspond with each data point. Structure your presentation in a dramatic arc—give it a clear beginning, middle, and end.

When you present information as a story rather than a list of facts and figures, your audience will better understand the key parts of your message—and they’ll remember more of what you had to say.

Ditch the Bullets - Take your Audience on a Visual Journey

Tap into into millions of years of evolutionary programming. Tap into the way that our brains are hardwired to understand and remember information. Tell a visual story.

To understand how our memories work, consider the following question:

What objects are currently on your desk?

Did you find yourself referencing a written list in your head?

Or did you see yourself sitting at your desk, looking at the objects that are there?

Most people are in the second camp—they are employing a particular mode of memory known as the “method of loci.

Our minds understand and retain information much more effectively when it is presented within a visual and spatial context.

Joshua Foer, the 2006 American Memory Champion and New York Times’ bestselling author, gave a terrific TED talk about how he used the method of loci to accomplish amazing feats of memory—like memorizing a freshly shuffled pack of cards in just 100 seconds.

Take advantage of the method of loci by using a powerful visual aid to back up your main message.

Forget text-heavy slides; bullet points don’t trigger our visual and spatial memory, making them much harder to recall both on stage as the presenter and after the talk as an audience member.

Instead, pair your ideas with eye-catching images, and visually show the relationships between your main points.

By providing your audience with visual cues that help them understand how your ideas relate to one another and the “big picture” of your presentation, you’ll make it easier for them both to understand and to remember your message.

Turn Your Presentation into a Conversation

We're programmed to engage, not to listen. Worried about losing your audience’s attention during a long speech or a dry update?

When you turn your presentation into a conversation instead of a monologue, your audience will be more invested and engaged in what you have to say—because they’ll get to have a say themselves.

Remember this: "Them First". Outline your message with your audience in mind.

Why are they coming to hear you speak?
What is it that they want to hear?

Plan what you are going to say based on what is most relevant to your audience.

Start your talk with them first, too.  It is much more engaging for the speaker to start off with, “I know there are 3 questions you’ve got about my topic”, than starting with, “I’m going to tell you about…”.  

Depending on the size of the crowd, there are also a couple of tricks you can use to make your delivery more conversational and more engaging. If you’re speaking to a packed auditorium, make use of rhetorical questions. Ask your audience to respond to yes or no questions with a show of hands. In smaller meetings and more intimate crowds, you can go a step further by directly asking an audience member to answer a question.

Additionally, if you’re using a nonlinear presentation tool like Prezi, you can give a more freeform presentation based on the topics in which your audience is most interested. By showing the big picture and then asking which details your audience would like zoom in to, you can turn even the most dull presentation into an engaging conversation.

About the Author

Tobey Fitch is Head of Talent at Prezi.

Tobey has spent the past decade helping people and organizations grow and communicate more effectively, not only as a member of the Prezi team but also as Senior Manager of Apple's Leadership and Development Team and the founding partner of Fitch Associates, a consulting firm focused on making people more effective leaders.