November 12, 2006

Much has been written about preparing an effective presentation.
If you go to the book store or library you will find volumes written about public speaking. Lots have been written about various techniques used to hold an audience's attention. Techniques that range from asking the audience questions, telling jokes, clever anecdotes, etc. are recommended. There's no doubt that all of these suggestions have merit and are used quite effectively. But by and large, with the exception of asking the audience a general question every now and then I seldom use these techniques. Instead when I prepare and deliver my presentations I've come to rely primarily on 7 keys that I've learned over the years.

My 7 tips for an engaging presentation.
The purpose of this article is to share what I’ve learned about making your public presentation interesting and engaging to the audience. I have seven simple tips. Here’s what I do:

1. I talk about my experiences, what I’ve done and what I learned from those experiences or how I was affected. I’ve discovered that nothing resonates with listeners like the speaker’s experience because it's first hand knowledge and as such it is very real.

2. It really pays to be humble and tell it like it is. Depending on the audience, I tell them about how I “sort of failed the 5th grade” – people always chuckle and smile when they hear that story. They are human, and in their eyes, when they hear me mention my own human shortcomings — they identify with me.

3. I use humor, as often as I can. We all love to laugh. I don’t tell jokes per se. Instead my humor is usually derived from some experience of mine. For example, at the Web 2.0 Summit, I talked about how financial writers only seem to care about paper or accounting profits – they don’t care about cash flow. My mother has never quite forgiven me for not doing well in school. So I told the audience about how just last week I was talking to my mother and told her I know guys who passed the 5th grade and graduated high school with honors who don’t generate the cash I do. But she didn’t care. She didn’t want to hear it. Like the financial writers – cash flow means nothing to her.

4. I use simple words throughout my presentation. I figure a public presentation is no time to try to impress anyone with my knowledge of obscure words. What I want is everyone in the audience to understand what I’m trying to say.

5. I make it a point to never lecture or pontificate. I know that’s boring and will lose an audience quickly.

6. I know, with public speaking, less is definitely more. Whenever you have a choice between making your presentation shorter or longer – always choose shorter. This will keep your audience’s attention and earn their appreciation.

7. It pays to end on an up note – or at least on a smile. Again, depending on the audience, I typically end by saying “we’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time!” – And the audience loves it.

So there you have it. That’s what I know about putting together public presentations. Are there more things you need to be aware of to be an effective speaker? You bet there are. However I thought these 7 simple points were worth sharing with you.

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