Five tips for connecting with your audience
It’s the sort of thing nightmares are made of... Your presentation didn’t land. Your message got muddled. People got bored. Someone in the back even fell asleep.
In today’s multi-screen world, where several things are demanding people’s attention, you need to captivate your audience quickly and find a way to hold their attention for the length of your presentation. At The Spur Group, we’ve worked with numerous executives to build and deliver presentations that stick - presentations that resonate and compel audiences. Want to learn how we do it? Here are five simple tips that you can use when it’s time to deliver your next presentation.
1. Avoid starting in the middle
You have a lot to announce. New solutions that are faster and less expensive than your competition. Additional services that make it easier for your customers and partners to implement solutions. Innovative financing options that make the buying decision even easier for your customers.
Presenters often get so familiar with their topic and talking points that it’s tempting for them to skip the context-setting portion of their presentation and jump straight into their big announcements – do not do this. The audience needs to be brought along with you. Make sure you give them the context they need to understand your key points. Otherwise, they are left asking, “Wait, what problem are we solving here?”. Once the audience understands the full narrative, you can lead them into your announcements. They’ll be receptive to your key points and the climax of your speech will be more memorable.
2. Acknowledge your audience
Companies of all sizes make the mistake of focusing primarily on themselves during presentations – especially large organizations. Does this type of customer presentation sound familiar?
“We are so pleased to be here. As a leader of software and technology solutions, we have a lot of new innovations we are excited to tell you about, but these are just another step in our long history of ground-breaking work. Over the past 10 years we have deployed more than our share of firsts...”
Sounds okay, but the audience isn’t captivated. Why should they care about how clever your company is? What does this have to do with them?
Consider this alternative.
“We are so pleased to be here today, talking with some of our most important customers. As a company, we have several jobs. One of them is to listen to you with great intensity. Custom feedback has informed all of our most important innovations, and today, we’re excited to share some new ones with you...”
In this example, the customers and their point of view become an acknowledged part of the speaker’s success. The audience is more receptive to the presented information now that the speaker has created a connection with them.
3. Think about the story you want to tell
Imagine you’ve been asked to speak about your organization’s approach to change management at an international conference. The point is to showcase your organization’s excellence in this field. You might think that having your team leaders each submit a section for the presentation would be a good approach. However, content from many different authors and perspectives will hinder the flow of your story.
Does that mean you have to do everything yourself?
No. You can absolutely collaborate with others. So, make sure that you start with a clear story arc in mind. Know how your presentation will begin, what the buildup will be, and how you will lead into the climax. This way, even if you pull in content from other authors, the story remains fluid.
Gathering others’ perspectives is not wrong, but it must be restructured to follow the arc that you’ve developed. Additionally, don’t forget to add your attention-getter and determine how to include the audience. A pre-developed story arc is a great way to stitch together different pieces of your presentation and it helps you create an experience for your audience. By following this structure, you bring the audience along with you and connect with them.
4. Connect with the audience
It’s common to hear the advice “focus on the positives” when preparing for a presentation, but this isn’t always the right approach. Avoiding negative emotions is generally decent advice but avoiding a difficult topic does not make for a powerful, impactful presentation. Often if you are dancing around something, the audience will pick up on it. People won’t remember every word you say, but they will remember big moments, especially if they’re unexpected.
Consider, for example, Steve Jobs’ presentation where he announced an investment by Microsoft in Apple at Mac World in 1997. Apple was financially troubled and everyone in the crowd knew it.
“I would like to announce one of our first partnerships today, a very, very meaningful one, that is one with Microsoft.”
Some in the crowd actually booed. Minutes later, Steve explained the partnership.
“If we want to move forward, [to] see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.”
Some people in the crowd began nodding because they all knew it was true. This was a great leadership moment. If you want to watch the video, you can find it here.
Imagine if Steve avoided the subject altogether and presented some new products. Leaving the investment discussion for a press release. It would’ve been much less powerful. It could have affected Apple’s trajectory as a company.
Steve’s announcement successfully grabbed the audience’s attention because he connected with them. Initially, they didn’t like what Steve had to say, but eventually, he brought them around. At first, his words evoked feelings of anger, disagreement, disgust, and surprise. But this created a truly memorable moment. Steve didn’t shy away from the tough discussion, but rather used the audience’s emotional attachment to Apple as a vehicle to make an impactful presentation.
5. Avoid focusing too much on visuals
There are a million different approaches to visuals. You’ve seen executives put up charts with indecipherable numbers. You’ve seen technology presentations undermined by distracting, emotional imagery. And, of course, you’ve seen presentations that are just plain ugly.
“We focused mainly on the content” is an excuse you’re likely to hear in these instances. This can be code for “we ran out of time”, “we’re not that good at making visuals”, or “we just have to live with things the way they are”.
Is it possible for fantastic speakers to overcome poor visuals? Absolutely. Simon Sinek, a renowned author and motivational speaker, rarely uses any sort of presentation. Simon is known for his ability to deliver captivating presentations with nothing more than a large pad of paper and a marker.
But, if you aren’t Simon Sinek, here are two quick tips on visuals:
- keep the focus on you rather than the visuals behind you
- keep your visuals simple
- try using a mix of images and videos
The goal is to have a balance between your visuals and content on the slides. Often, you’ll see executive presentations with visual slides that have one or two words. Information delivered in pictures and images is 65% more likely to be remembered than words. Keeping that in mind, simple visuals on your slide with less text makes your content memorable and maintains focus on the presenter. Now, your deck is the supporting act and you’re the star.
The measure of a good presentation is when you’re able to get your audience to act and leave a lasting impression on them. Delivering an impactful presentation is an art that takes practice. By following these tips you’ll not only engage your audience, but also make your audience a part of your story. You create a powerful connection with them, and ultimately it can even get the audience to root for your success.