No one wants to be boring. No one has that intention, yet most presentations I see are just that. Boring. The good ones are average at best. Some of them may be informative, but not very memorable. Even the professionals who know their job and their subject can’t seem to create memorable presentations.
Here’s the sad part. Most people know their subject but are so close to it that they are missing how the audience will receive it. Most presentations are too simple; they are boring, confusing, high level; and the audience gets lost.
What is worse? How good or boring your presentations are become apart of your professional brand. It is a label people put on you that sticks. If people know you well and like you they will forgive a boring presentation; but they will not think you are a good presenter. Most people don’t know you as well as your colleagues do. Each presentation you give, no matter what the subject, brands you as either worth listening to or boring in the audience’s mind. The other downside that in their minds they paint the rest of who you on that tiny slice of time you are standing in front of them.
Many people are also tasked to present inevitably boring subjects especially in the corporate world. I get it. It is a challenge. So, how do you bring boring subjects to life? It starts with that exact question. How can I make this interesting? Without asking that question, the presentation is destined to be a snooze fest.
After over a decade of watching and coaching presenters at all levels, I found that there are five essential elements that are missing in boring presentations. Though there is much to learn to be a world-class presenter, a powerful first step is to understand these crucial boredom busters.
Will your audience remember your point three days after you present? Three months? Three years? If you wish to be more memorable, persuasive and leave the audience wanting more, sincerely ask yourself if you are using all five of these elements in every presentation:
#5 – STRONG STRUCTURE
Do you want your audience to “get it”? Strong structure sounds boring, but it is very sexy if you care about your audience walking away with your message. This is the invisible element that makes the whole presentation more digestible. It brings your audience clarity, and it brings you confidence.
After seven years as a presenter and being highly-paid for a one-hour speech, this was one element that had truly eluded me. I honestly did not understand its importance. Now I see that it is the foundation of a memorable presentation. One of my coaches, Patricia Fripp defines Structure as “the order and framework of your presentation”. Do you take the time to lay out a clear framework of your presentation before you start building it?
Most presenters know you need a good open and close. Correct. If they know that, then why do more presenters close with Q & A? That is a horrible ending! You are at the mercy of a terrible last question. It is OK to do Q & A, but never at the end. Let people know you are going to close with an important point after the Q & A; otherwise people check-out mentally and start packing up. Give them a reason to stay and listen until the end. I learned from the standup comedy world that you always end on your best joke and walk off to laughter. In the presentation world, leave them with a strong point or story that reinforces the premise of your presentation.
Here is another example of poor structure, too many points. If you have thirteen points, the audience is not going to remember eleven of them. If they aren’t going to remember them, what’s the point? Who cares? You have a certain time frame in which you will present, so fill that with what your audience truly needs and wants.
#4 – AUDIENCE-FOCUSED
This one seems obvious but is rarely done well. It starts with the creation of your presentation. We coach presenters to ask themselves this question before they start creating their presentations: When I’m done presenting, what do I want my audience to do, think and feel?
If I asked you that right after your last presentation what would you say? Most presenters would respond to me with, “Um…” or “Well…” They would go back and forth on what they were trying to say. You can’t be memorable if you are not clear. You can be memorable if your presentation is self-focused, but it would be for the wrong reasons!
A memorable presentation has a clear outcome for the audience. You base your entire purpose on them. After all, that is why they give you their attention. What will you do with that attention? Will you draw them in or bore them?
Most presenters are focused on the “I”. Occasionally they will mention “you” here and there, but that is not enough. Each point you make should be brought back to how it relates to your audience.
In my World-Championship speech, which was only seven minutes long, I used the word you or your 34 times. That averages over four a minute. Now, my presentation that day was intended to be a motivational speech. Most corporate presentations have a different intention, but the same audience focus helps keep your listeners engaged. In fact, this article was written with the same principle in mind.
Did you notice? Were you engaged? Did you feel I was talking to you? I used the word “you” or “your” forty times in this article even before I got to this audience-focused section.
#3 – A FOUNDATIONAL PHRASE
Does your presentation have a foundational phrase? This is an idea I learned from fellow World-Champion Speaker Craig Valentine. It is the phrase we will remember three days after your presentation if you’ve done it properly. If your phrase is memorable, it will be part of the conversation in the hallway after you present. The phrase will be connected to you and your message. If we remember your phrase, we will remember you, your message and your point.
I love that Craig calls it a foundational phrase. Why? Because it is the literal foundation of your presentation. It is your main message, and the presentation is built around that phrase. Most presenters do not realize the importance of this or will use a cliché phrase. Audience members don’t remember clichés. How can your presentation be memorable if the elements are forgettable?
I was sitting at a conference for one of my clients, Wells Fargo. One of their executives was presenting before me. She was awesome and did it right. She knew her subject and knew how to make it memorable. Many presenters know their subject, but they don’t take the time to make their points stick. What was her phrase? Wells Fargo Corporate Executive, Amy Lynn Johnson said, “We can either win together or lose alone.” Brilliant. Here is another key; she weaved that into her presentation at least three times. You must repeat your phrase to help make it “stickier” or catchy. It should also be ten words or fewer and have some rhythm to it. In commercials, they will give you the number or web address three times in 90 seconds.
Even the government uses a foundational phrase. If you have ever traveled, I’m sure you heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” It’s catchy and clear. To be memorable, each presentation should have its own foundational phrase. Do yours have it?
#2 – CLEAN SLIDES
How are your slides? Honestly? Augh! This is one of my pet peeves. Horrible slides! Until I was enlightened a few years ago, I was making the mistake of not having clean slides. My slides were too wordy, ugly and just plain confusing. I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with a friend and marketing guru who was honest with me. She told me what a great presenter I was; but how my slides were so bad they took away from my brand. Yikes! She was right! Now I can’t look at other peoples’ slides without judging.
When I worked with one of my big clients in Boston, I realized this was a huge challenge in the corporate-presenting world. It seems people take a class on it and, yet, when it comes to their own presentation, they still don’t get it. This client regularly sent executives out to pitch their services for huge contracts to Fortune 500 companies. The execs knew their product, but often had way too much information on each slide. Confuse a client, lose a sale. (That is a foundational phrase!)
I taught the executives that each slide needs to make one clear point. That’s it! If they need to explain any more than that, make a new slide! When coaching them, I would ask them to “Defend this slide. What is the one point you are making?” Most of the time I did not have to say anything else; they would lean over to their laptop and start cleaning them up right away.
Audience members can either read your slide or listen to you, not both at the same time. If the entire point is explained in text, we don’t need you. They had told me they wanted to give the slides to the prospect as a “leave behind.” I said, “Great! Have two versions. One you present and one you leave behind with the longer explanation.”
The other magical tool many presenters either don’t know about or don’t utilize properly is the “B” button. When showing slides on a computer click B on the keyboard or on your remote, and the slide will black out. This will render the screen black. (Never use the W; it turns the screen completely white, unless you wish to snow-blind your audience.) When you make the screen black, it will cause the audience to change its focus to you. When you hit B again, the focus will bring their attention back to the slides. Your ability to transfer that focus back and forth subtly will keep them engaged.
Important! Never ever end on a “Thank You!” slide. YIKES! You need a slide to say, “Thank you”? Are you kidding me? You could just shut the slide off and say it to the audience. It would be lame but better than needing a slide to help you thank the audience. I wish I knew the first person who created a “Thank You” slide so I could slap them and then thank them for helping presenters see they need some help. If you need a cue for yourself as last slide, make it your foundational phrase. That is much more memorable than a “Thank You” slide.
#1 – MEMORABLE STORIES
Yup, stories. They are the heartbeat of memorable presentations. The key word is memorable. Stories are OK, but are yours memorable? Many corporate presenters use hardly any stories. When they use memorable ones, they stand out from other presenters and become more likable in the audience’s mind. We love to hear good stories. If I could get you to do one thing to be more memorable, it would be to master great storytelling.
You may be thinking, “What exactly is great storytelling?” This may be a lot to absorb, but I define great storytelling as a perspective-changing story that elicits emotion. That is much easier said than done, but it is a start and a goal.
First what is perspective changing? Think about whether you are a believer or not. The fact is that Jesus was a teacher Who had many listeners. He usually taught people through parables or short stories and analogies that helped them understand. The stories changed people’s perspectives. For instance, the hero of a story starts with one perspective and comes to a new understanding due to an experience or change facilitated through that story. What many corporate presenters do not understand is how a good personal story can easily be used to make business points. Need to get the point across about persistence or goals? Consider using a story of how your child or pet taught you a lesson. Other people will relate to their own or pet.
Second, eliciting emotion. When I was practicing for the World Championship of Public Speaking against 25,000 contestants, I got the weirdest feedback ever. Some experienced speakers pulled me aside and said, “There is a problem with your speech; we didn’t feel anything.” I was confused. It is a speech; why does anyone need to feel anything? I later learned a commonality of winners was that they told stories the audience felt.
Years later, I learned from a story master, Michael Hauge, that the purpose of the story is to elicit emotion. When we feel an emotion, it becomes a memory peg that makes us remember that story. They don’t all have to be gut-wrenching, but a good story should still make us think. It is a way to open the audience’s mind to a new perspective without preaching or being “salesy”. If they leave with the same perspective as they had at the beginning of your presentation, chances are it was boring.
Some corporate presenters make the mistake of thinking it is all about the numbers. Yes, we may need some numbers and case studies –that is true. But it does not stop there. World Champion Speaker, Ed Tate says, in regards to corporate presentations, “Our job is to take the numbers and turn them back into people.”
Your audience may still need you to bridge the gap between the numbers and the application to them or their company. This is connected to the you-focused section we just talked about. Ask yourself after you present important numbers or case studies, “Am I clearly communicating to the audience how it impacts them specifically?” Picture your audience sitting there and if you could hear their thoughts asking you, “OK, I see but how does this directly apply to me?”
All five essential elements are important to make your presentation memorable. Without connection and authenticity though, these five things will fall short. If you don’t believe in your message or the idea you are selling, all the elements in the world will not make a huge difference. Audiences today are much savvier than a few decades ago. They also have a stronger BS meter. Ego is also a huge disconnect. If you come across as arrogant, even if you have all the answers, you will soon be forgotten or worse yet gain a negative stigma in the audience’s mind.
Like a slick salesperson with all of the right answers, we don’t like them and will disconnect from them so as to not let them manipulate us. Don’t focus on trying to be perfect. Set your intention to help the audience understand your premise, and give them a clear message. I say. “Your audience wants you present, not perfect.” (That is one of my foundational phrases.)
If you are clear, conversational and authentic, people love that. People resonate with that, and people will love you. You and your presentations will be memorable.
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If you are new to the presenter world and get very nervous, I’d suggest checking out Toastmasters.org as a place to learn basic skills and calm your nerves. It is where I started in 1994.
If you want to present like a pro and are looking for world-class presentation techniques and strategies, join me and my coaches in
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Darren LaCroix, AS, CSP
World Champion of Public Speaking
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