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.

7 Ways To Give Presentations That People Actually Care About
[Image: Flickr user ImagineCup]

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.”

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.

Hat tip: SVBTLE

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.