7 Ways To Give Presentations That People Actually Care About

No one will be looking at their phones—unless they're tweeting about how awesome your talk is. Really.

When NYU leadership lecturer Helio Fred Garcia wants to gather an audience's attention, he enlists the most fearsome of allies: The Black Eyed Peas.

"At precisely 9 a.m. I touch a button on my remote mouse and play a sudden blast,"
he shared with us. "After a 10-second burst of very loud music, I have every student’s undivided attention. I then lock in the connection: I smile, welcome them, thank them for investing a full Saturday in developing their careers. Only then do I begin the class. I have hijacked their amygdalas. We need audiences to feel first and then to think."

"Let's Get It Started": Inhumane? Maybe. Effective? Certainly.

But what for those of us who have the burden privilege of talking to a room full of people but don't want to resort to late 2000s party anthems? Is there a way to get an audience into what you're saying without having to summon the presence of Fergie? Yes, may declare. YesGraph cofounder and vet of Dropbox and Facebook Ivan Kirigin shows us how.

Kirigin, who just gave a talk at the 2013 Growth Hacker Conference, blogged about what makes for a killer presentation—a mixture of knowing your audience, giving them just the right information, and not-boring visuals. Let's buffet his insights below.

1) Tailor the talk to the audience.

Quality communication is grounded in empathy; you gotta know what they want to know.

"As much as I'd like to talk about zombies and nukes," Kirigin says, "a growth conference audience wants to hear specific tactics and strategy around growth."

2) Don't sound like a robot.

Reading from a script will make you sound like a mixture of woefully wooden politician and delightfully unrelatable robot. So instead of memorizing your talk word for word, know the whole of the ideas you're trying to communicate—then talk about them like a human.

3) Use visuals.

Fast Company recently saw Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes author Maria Konnikova give a talk about the weirdness of cognition. When she wanted to show how people can see the same object multiple ways, she showed the audience this illusion: Depending on the way you look at it, you see either a duck or a rabbit, which is crazy—and super effective for illustrating her point.

4) Find a way to tell a story.

Storytelling is one of the finest and most engaging ways of communicating ideas—to the point that it might be an evolutionary adaptation. As Kirigin says:

You should generally try to tell a narrative story regardless of the topic. Stories are easier to understand and keep an audience’s attention. This isn’t always possible. In my growth talk, the story was how I came to work in growth, some things we tried at Dropbox, and lessons learned applied to a new startup.

To brush up on your storytelling skills, consult a screenwriting guru.

5) Don't write so much on your slides.

"People literally can't listen to you and read at the same time," Kirigin says. "So when you have a lot of writing on your slide, expect that people aren't going to listen to what you're saying."

6) Watch yourself.

Kirigin recorded himself giving his talk (again, again, and again) before giving his presentation—allowing him to iterate on each version.

7) Allow the talk to get beyond a one-sided conversation.

"All this practice and iteration helps you focus on what matters when giving a talk: engaging with your audience," Kirigin says. "When neither you nor your audience are reading your slides, you can see how people react to what you’re saying. You know when something is confusing."

This is the same advice that Quiet author Susan Cain once gave us: Just as being a quality conversationalist depends on listening to your partner, being a topflight speaker means listening to your audience.

Once you get enough experience, she says, "you can really read audiences," as you feel the moods and reactions of the audience—and allowing the monologue to evolve into a dialogue.

Yes, introverts can be awesome public speakers too.

Hat tip: SVBTLE

[Image: Flickr user ImagineCup]

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18 Comments

  • These are excellent, concise tips. People might find it helpful to have some of them exemplified or quantified more though.

    For instance, take the tip about writing less on your slides. Here’s a guide on the actual number of words, plus supporting quotes from authors Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds and others: http://wp.me/p1PHR3-IC

  • Ibrar

    I smile, welcome them, thank them for investing a full Saturday in developing their careers.

  • Charles

    gave a talk to a group of women about my story and what I was going throughout and I noticed one lady had this disgusted look on her face the entire time

  • Charles

    If the reception is No Sugar Sherlock, then no amount of story telling of images will pull a presentation out of the ditch

  • Charles

    Then you went into blah mode. Don't make the mistake thinking that because someone is over 30 that they don't want or need to be fired up

  • Charles

    oo many presenters either present material someone else prepared for them or material they don't believe in passionately. It makes them uncomfortable and it shows

  • jackwindows

    Turn fear of an audience into gift-giving love. You know you are giving a gift. Be joyful and interesting.

  • Dheeraj Mehrotra

    Also must not look around the audience. Instead make a W and reverse it. Let all be with you.

  • Raquel M Ramirez

    Awesome tips Drake. I do believe a speaker should be a good reader of the nonverbal behaviors of the audience. However, one should not be so hard on oneself thinking every look from an audience member is a direct response to what one is saying. Case in point, I gave a talk to a group of women about my story and what I was going throughout and I noticed one lady had this disgusted look on her face the entire time. I kept thinking, "What am I saying or doing wrong." After the event she came up to me almost in tears telling me how moved she was. So here I thought that was a disgusted look when it was really an engaged and attentive audience member. :) So a good balance of being a good listener and not being so hard on oneself will help you to Stand up and Deliver :)

  • Digital Future

    Great article Drake...everyone has their own style but seriously I can't stand walking into a presentation with lame music blasting. What you say, show and do should excite the audience. It's not basic, it's true and saves us from the basics most learn in college. The guy below probably is the same one who bores his audience to death...2000 late!

  • Chris Reich

    Rule Number 1: Make sure you have something to say.

    If the reception is "No Sugar Sherlock", then no amount of story telling or images will pull a presentation out of the ditch.

  • Kathy Heasley

    Wow, you had the answer in the intro. Then you went into blah mode. Don't make the mistake thinking that because someone is over 30 that they don't want or need to be fired up. The 50-somethings in the crowd have the same physiology as the 20 and 30 somethings. They are human too. So amp 'em up and manage the emotional ride throughout your presentation. The audience you get is the audience you prepare.

  • Guest

    Rule Number 1: Make sure you have something to say.

    If the reception is No Sugar Sherlock, then no amount of story telling of images will pull a presentation out of the ditch.

  • Jason Thibeault

    I'll add another: be comfortable with what you are presenting. Too many presenters either present material someone else prepared for them or material they don't believe in passionately. It makes them uncomfortable and it shows. And I agree with the other comment: the title is about storytelling, not about being a good presenter. Bait and switch.

  • Steiner on Failure

    Pe-lease...so so basic.

    Headline promised so much more...

    Let me add another point...much stronger than the seven delineated here -

    "Under promise and Over deliver."

    Always.
    All the best
    Erik