5 Keys to Making Better Presentations

5 Keys to Making Better Presentations

Tips to make your presentations both interesting and memorable

Have you ever sat through a mandatory meeting where the presenter mumbled their way through densely-written slides while everyone else surreptitiously checked their email? And which you’ve left with no takeaways other than a sense of wasted time?

Worse still, have you ever been the presenter at one of those meetings?

Here are five key steps to ensure you will never be that person. Follow these, and your presentations will be both interesting and memorable.

Key 1: Have Clear Goals

Know what you want to communicate.

What are the two or three key ideas that you want your audience to remember? Limit your key ideas to two or three.

Know what your “ask” is.

What do you want your audience to be taking away from your presentation? What do you want them to do as a result?

Key 2: Know Your Audience

Understand what they want.

What do you have to say that is relevant to them? What is their communication style? Are they – broadly speaking – an analytical group who will be interested in facts and figures, or are they more interested in a 30 thousand feet overview?

Determine how you can best present information to them.

Will using visual aids help them understand the topic better than just listening to you speak? Will walking them through an exercise help cement what you're saying more than simply explaining it with words and graphics?

Key 3: Communicate so They'll Remember

When preparing your presentation, keep in mind these four memory biases:

  1. Early bias. Most people remember what you say at the beginning rather than the end. You can try this for yourself: read slowly through a list of words (once) and see which ones you can write down afterwards.

    So be sure to highlight your two or three key ideas in your opening remarks. Don’t wait till the summary at the end.

  2. Recency bias. Some people remember the most recent thing they heard. So also summarize your two to three key ideas at the end.

  3. Repetitive bias. A study out of UCLA shows that when we state an important idea 1 time, there is a 10% chance of listeners remembering it for 30+ days. If we repeat the message 6 times, retention jumps to 90%

    So to increase the chance of people remembering your two to three key ideas – repeat them in multiple different ways throughout your presentation.

  4. Outstanding Bias. People remember things that are unusual, that jump out at them. People remember stories, they remember interactive exercises, they remember things that make them laugh. The more interesting you can make your presentation (more on that below), the more people are likely to retain the message you are communicating.

Key 4: Hold Their Attention

Keep it relevant.

Keeping it relevant goes back to knowing your audience. What matters to them? What actions can they take as a result of your presentation?

If you’ve been asked to present on a topic and you don’t know the answers to the above questions – ASK! Before you start preparing your presentation.

Keep it interesting.

There are several ways to keep your presentation interesting. Consider what you find interesting and include some of that. For example:

  • Watch your language, both when speaking and in your visuals. Avoid long sentences and jargon; use short descriptive sentences that get right to the point. Use the active voice.
  • Use stories and examples. People love stories that they can relate to, the more personal or the more funny, the better.

    You can use stories and examples as ways to communicate complex ideas in a digestible format. If you have a story that relates to your topic or idea, share it! If your story includes struggle as well as success it becomes even more relatable.

    If no personal stories come to mind, googling business quotes on your topic can yield some great material. For example, if your key idea is “we need to innovate for tomorrow’s technology” then the quote attributed to Henry Ford will nail your point: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

  • Use humor. You don't want to be the person who is unintentionally funny, but a little humor can go a long way.
  • Use visuals (thoughtfully). Slideshows or other graphics help keep things interesting, but be careful not to use them as an excuse not to prepare fully. And – a BIG presentation-killer – don’t write your script on your slides and then read it out to your audience. The fewer words the better; if your audience is reading your slides then they have stopped listening to you speak.
  • Make it interactive. Solicit feedback. Ask open-ended questions. Encourage two-way dialog. And if appropriate…
  • Include activities and exercises. The more hands-on you can get your audience, the more likely your message will stick. If your key idea is “we need to innovate for tomorrow’s technology” you could have small groups read and report on case studies of companies that didn’t (Blockbuster, Polaroid, Sears and so many others). If your key idea is “we should restart staff outings” then you could ask people to work in teams to suggest where the next one should be held. The more interactive you can make your presentation, the more likely your ideas are to stick.

Key 5: Finish Well

Reiterate your two to three key ideas. And ensure your audience has a clear call to action and is also clear on the next step you are asking them to take.

Incorporate these 5 Keys in your next presentation and you will ensure that your communication has maximum chance of creating your desired impact.

people applauding
Photo by Hayley Murray

Related Module:

Influence with Intention

Further Resources

CRESTCOM PODCAST: How to Give a Great Speech with Attorney Brian Beckcom (Listen Now)