That crucial moment is here. You are about to deliver a key presentation for your career. Starting now, time can be either your best friend or your worst enemy. You have just a few seconds to attract your audience. Eight seconds, to be more accurate, if you are dealing with a younger crowd.
This was what a research carried out last March by WGSN Mindset found out after studying Generation Z (the demographic cohort that includes individuals born between the late 1990’s and 2010). And, as you can probably imagine, social networks and smartphones carry most of the blame since they divert attention from the speaker. Now more than ever, people, especially youngsters, want to be connected to everything, which kills their focus. If the presenter fails to leverage the first few seconds, he runs the risk of being sidetracked by some WhatsApp discussion regarding the next happy hour.
A decision clocked by the second
How to win this battle, then? The secret is to give special attention to the first few minutes of your speech and surprise the audience right at the beginning. In what way? By studying your audience, the attendees, prior to the presentation. Find out their interests, what triggers their curiosity and what jokes amuse them.
Gathering previous knowledge will set the tone for the next step towards victory: showing promptly what is in it for them. Picture yourself in a meeting where you want to suggest a partnership. You might begin by saying the other company would benefit from the partnership since it would increase their profit in a department it is not doing so well. Additionally, if you are delivering a speech concerning people management, what about sharing a remarkable story most of the audience can relate to before getting into more technical details of that matter?
Show them straight away the advantages they might get from your proposal, or even unveil a piece of information that shows your speech is different from anything they have heard so far.
Emotion and Focus walk hand in hand
As time goes by, you must establish an emotional bond. After getting everyone’s attention with your first information or story, it is time to arouse empathy. Once you set up this connection, your listener will be more willing to concentrate on rational arguments you will present later, such as figures and statistics.
Storytelling is a great technique that helps bonding. Organize a narrative for your presentation and make it clear from the start. A story that gives rise to emotions is much more effective than some numbers on a screen.
You should also be aware of non-verbal communication. The moment you set foot on stage, smile, make eye contact and stand in neutral positions. Avoid arching your back, starring at the floor or being hard-faced. No one pays attention at someone who seems in distress. The body is loquacious and hence must be your ally.
When everybody knows your name
When meeting with or presenting for an acquainted audience, it is possible they might have some information regarding your talk. So, try to get to the point. The most technical information can be revealed swiftly. Change the order: offer your conclusion at the beginning of your presentation and, then, proceed with your arguments.
Bottom line: make the effort to always have your listener or audience in mind and work on your presentation focusing on their interests rather than only on yours. If you follow these tips, the fight for an audience’s attention will certainly be a less scary one.
There’s more than one way to start a presentation. As a matter of fact, there are countless good ways to begin, and as we always say, the beginning of a presentation is crucial. Because in those first moments you need to win your audience’s attention and confidence so they’ll hang on your every word til you finally stop talking.
And, no, this isn’t easy! If it were, there wouldn’t be an awful lot to say about it, would there?
But though there isn’t just one good way to start a presentation, there is for sure one worst way to start one.
In this article we share with you the very worst way to start a presentation, so you can avoid it like the plague.
And here it is: the very worst way to start a presentation has to do with the traditional presentation model we now know to be totally inadequate and ineffective, not to mention boring as hell.
You know the one? The presentation that uses a string of standard, disconnected messages that are of little or no interest to an audience.
Read these. Then forget them as fast as you can!
• About us.
• Our values.
• Our mission.
• What distinguishes us.
• Our products.
• Our success stories.
• Our Customers
And on an on and on.
See, creating a presentation based on company values and mission and so forth means you’re opting to focus on your company.
Instead, the core focus of your presentation should be the audience. Not you. So if your self-important, self-centered presentation starts with the mind-numbing themes we list above, you’ll end up getting what you didn’t come for:
-An audience that’s disinterested and bored (You can watch them text while you talk.)
-A unique opportunity lost for conveying an important message
– A bad image of yourself right out there for the world to see
Certainly not your objective!
So if your slides speak about values and missions and distinguishing characteristics, kill the file and kill the computer and rethink the whole thing, from square-one.
Start by asking yourself:
Who is my audience, and how can the message I want to convey improve their lives?
If you do this, you’ll be setting off on the right foot in the right direction. We all love to be the center of attention, right? So put yourself in that audience and think, what would I like to hear?
And if you want more ideas on how to best start a presentation, you might want to look into some of our other articles:
Now get cracking! We wish you awesome presentation beginnings!
Consider the following: you must deliver a speech to an audience from a different state hence you carefully choose the references that, in your opinion, will be appealing to them. However, your choice must reflect your perception.
Imagine if, on the day of your presentation, instead of a lively and engaged audience, you see nothing but yawns. Or even worse: you see displeased faces due to a possible preconceived opinion you might have passed on.
This happens quite often.
Some speakers disrespect the profile of their audience, consequently, the risk of sounding too technical, giving wrong or repeated information, increases. Like that, it is totally comprehensible that their attendees will focus on everything rather than on what is being presented.
The importance of empathy
Know the audience’s profile represents the best tool to connect the speaker with the audience.
It is impossible to establish this relationship without empathy, which means understanding the feelings and opinions of others.
It is not about feeling the same or always agreeing with them, but to respect and understand what they think, talk and feel.
There are very different types of audiences. Indeed, there are. Throughout the experience, we have realized that there are some reoccurring behaviors, which define certain audience’s profiles. To help you approach them, establishing an empathic relationship, we put together the list below.
Pessimists tend to believe what you are saying does not apply to their reality and, therefore, probably, it will not work. Dealing with this profile requires, just like the others, empathy and a gentle voice’s tone.
If you come across pessimists during your presentation, let them know such attitude will not help them leave their comfort zone or be informed of new solutions. Convince them that before passing a judgment on anything, they must give it a try.
Not knowing what the audience is thinking is, possibly, one of the major obstacles to be faced in a corporate presentation. Even when people are not saying what they are thinking, it is possible to deduce theories from their facial expressions, gestures, and attitudes.
If you meet someone like this, do not give up. Sometimes, that person, the one showing no expression, is taking in 100% of what you are saying. As the saying goes: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Usually happens, at school, when a student cuts in the teacher to prove how smart or funny he/she is. Well, there could also be a know-it-all among your audience. It is that kind of person that challenges you constantly, disagrees with almost everything you say and dares you while interrupting your speech.
People who do that like to be in the spotlight; so, give them what they want and befriend them. Always use them as role models, talk to them, ask them if they agree with you and why. Cherish their ego, just like they want you to, and let them be the center of attention.
Often, people who belong to this profile just want to show service to someone superior to them who is also attending the presentation. Then, they just end up making questions at wrong times.
Of course, questions are always welcome during the lectures but only with moderation.
Try to be as objective as possible in your answers. Otherwise, he/she may end up disrespecting the time of others.
That is that person who cannot stop talking with other attendees, causing others, and consequently the speaker, to lose focus. The best solution to address this personality is drawing his or her attention to the presentation.
A good tip would be to approach that person when interacting with the audience by calling him/her by the name. Try to make it clear the reason you are there and move just on.
The tutor is usually the person who hired you. In general terms, he or she tries to tell you what to do all the time, fearing something might not go well during the event.
The best way to deal with this type of person is to calm him/her down.
Show empathy by saying you understand his/her apprehension, but you are skillful.
Do your “homework” and say you have researched the company. Then make your presentation in accordance with the subject and profile agreed upon.
The smartphone addicted
It use to be the prevailing profile. People who are attached to their smartphones sending messages, play games and even interact in the social networks during your talk.
Calling by the name might also work for those who cannot look away from the screen. You could also, when walking around the audience, stand in front of or near that person. Therefore, he/she will feel embarrassed about being distracted thus refraining from picking up the phone.
This is also a very common profile in presentations. When you least expect, they fall asleep, taking your concentration along with them.
For the snooze types, the same strategies suggested for the smartphone-addicted apply. With one difference: you must be sensitive. After all, the sleepiness might be due to some problems that prevented that person from sleeping the night before.
The art of speaking is the key to charming your audience during a presentation. We constantly insist on this matter here on SOAP’s blog. However, the visual part has a huge influence too. Brilliant speech and script are almost worthless if the slides are shoddy.
In a corporative presentation is undeniable that you must represent your company identity in all aspects. It’s essential to pass out professionalism and organization to your target.
But how to deal with the visual identity? The tips below will help you imprint more personality and coherence to your support material.
1. Color palette
Before settling on the colors for your presentation, make sure they are in line with your company’s brand and are suitable for the matter in discussion. The shades you choose should also be familiar to the audience. Therefore, you will have a more befitting layout to the context. For instance, you must not design a presentation with shadows of orange for a bank whose main competitor uses such a palette.
The focus here should be “readability”, i.e., whether it is possible to read the slide. Use at least a size 18 font for continuous texts. This will also stop you from overfilling the presentation with unnecessary texts, which may spoil the slide.
Now, the utmost importance tip: always use system fonts, i.e., the standard fonts that come with Windows operational system, such as Arial. If you use a font downloaded from the internet and your file is read on a computer where it is not available, the system will automatically replace it for other fonts. And the layout you so carefully designed might just go down the drain.
Most people underestimate lines, but they can be extremely useful. You may use them to organize the content, establish necessary spaces, and set the tone for the presentation, giving the audience a feeling of organization.
When two or more lines meet, for instance, it is possible to observe sharp angles and tips, evoking technology and formality. Curved and soft lines bring forth lightness and sensitiveness; consecutive vertical lines, on the other hand, reveal organization and rigorousness.
4. Graphic elements
Graphic elements are objects that shape the visual messages on the slide – photos, icons, drawings, and shapes.
When using photos, bear in mind the moment an image gets to someone’s eyes, it automatically triggers memories and feelings, which might be either positive or negative. Therefore, the best option is to always seek for illustrations more likely to create positive connections with the audience. Images also help listeners understand and take in the message – especially in the case of short presentations.
Icons, diversely, are simplified and universal images – such as traffic signs – and they represent a fine alternative to illustrations. Drawings, both handmade and graphically created, are also great to ease the learning process. Such tool enables the apprehension of situations used as examples and makes the explanation more didactic.
To conclude, forms are used, basically, to establish spaces and highlight objects and information. Circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles may be employed to make a design more appealing. They might also come in handy if you need to organize or separate elements, represent an idea or lead your listeners’ sight to some direction.
5. Page background
The slide background must never be the dominant element, but an accessory tool in the presentation. Therefore, it cannot fight with the content for attention. They complement each other.
The blander the background? The easier way is to develop the layout of your presentation.
Regarding colors? A good choice is to use corresponding ones for backgrounds.
Another crucial advice is to avoid templates. This apparently harmless tool can kill creativity considerably. Some are so flashy they interfere with the layout or upstaging messages. Ideally, and whenever possible, you should design each slide from scratch; no restraints.
Contentment, sorrow, fear, tension: emotions might influence us more than we would wish for. And herein lies the problem: when there is an important meeting lined up for us and we are assaulted by negative emotions, chances are our words and body language will convey that, which might compromise our performance during a key moment.
If you seek advice from someone experienced at speaking in public, you will probably hear you must be self-confident and control your sense of insecurity and anxiety. But that is easier said than done. That is why we have prepared some very useful tips, so you get ready to deliver your message more assertively in that important meeting.
Look people in the eye and be eloquent
The answer to have a better performance in a meeting is empathy, i.e. connect with someone else to understand their opinions and emotions. And to establish a connection, one must know how the body “speaks”. Looking away from the audience, using a ho-hum tone, too many gestures, and being unexpressive, for instance, might divert people’s attention from you.
Train the brain to succeed
This is another very useful tip. Some neuroscience studies have scientifically proved the human brain is uncapable of differentiating real from imaginary situations. It is emotional intelligence: if you tell yourself the meeting will be a disaster, the probability it happens is higher. For the brain, concerns are facts – even if accommodated in the subconscious mind.
Instead, the day before the meeting, rehearse: deliver your talk out loud and use the appropriate body language – neutral body alignment, friendly facial expression, and gestures that reinforce the message. By doing that, your brain will be familiar with the situation when the time comes.
Shoulders back, chest out!
Keeping a flat back or starring at the floor during a meeting might send forth the worst possible message to your audience. Therefore, you should keep the back straight and the head parallel to the floor to pass on reliability, which will cause your body to believe you are relaxed and confident.
Moreover, you should pay attention to the details and avoid making gestures that might make listeners feel you are accusing them of something. Try to be comfortable, as if you were talking to someone you know. It will ease the emotional connection between you and your audience.
Words, too, must be trained
A good body language is worth nothing if verbal language is not fine-tuned, right? Emotional intelligence also plays a role here. If you have depreciative thoughts regarding your performance, you will probably get anxious and stumble over your words. So, once again, try to picture a good performance.
Another tip would be to watch out for an overabundance of information. As the key speaker, you are obviously an expert in the subject matter of the meeting, however excessive information might have a negative effect on the audience.
Again, be empathic: what is interesting to my audience? How can my presentation help them solve their problems? Answering these questions will help you give a better orientation to your speech.
Be ready for hostile behaviors
Eventually in a meeting, we run into individuals who like to challenge speakers. You must be ready for them, and, once more, empathy is the way to go.
Whenever it happens, try to understand their standpoint. It will help you realize their intention is not to inflict something on you, but to settle some specific need of their own, most frequently an unconscious one. It is easy to assume somebody wants to confront us, but that is not what usually happens; we are the ones who feel challenged.
In the heat of the moment, try to keep calm. We suggest you observe the language your listener applies: consider the person’s emphasis, looking for evidences of what is behind his/her collocations. You will probably come to know what had triggered that reaction, which, at first, seemed offensive. By recognizing the source of his/her dissatisfaction, you can restore your speech, or even defer to some of his/her arguments.
Finally, an advice that usually has great outcome: encourage audience’s engagement by asking questions. Questions are thought-provoking and help get people’s attention. You may invite the audience to “get inside” the reasoning of your presentation or even ask them to share their opinion, offering a trade. This is another way of strengthening empathy with the audience.
Remember: a meeting begins with a well-prepared speaker. And, if you really master the topic, no setback should prevail over your confidence. Rehearse to exhaustion, get familiar with the situation and focus on establishing an empathic relationship with your listener. If you do so, the success of your presentation will be just around the corner!
Keeping tens or hundreds of minds focused on a presentation isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a bit of a challenge! If a story isn’t compelling, if a speech is boring, confusing or even predictable, it’s easy for an audience to lose focus. Just as in the movies, the audience is seated but traveling in their minds away from the main scene – your presentation.
So the first challenge for the presenter is to create a story that arouses and holds the audience’s attention. Several devices can be used to create a story that can surprise while also engaging the emotions. Remember that any good presentation is going to do both.
Here are some techniques that you can and should use in future presentations:
1 – Go straight to the Point
In a presentation that goes directly to the point, the presenter reveals the main message in the first minutes, going into the arguments afterward. This ensures that the main message will always be heard by the entire audience.
- Context: This strategy proves most effective in short meetings that occur on a daily basis. But it can also be used when the listener already knows the subject and the aim is to deepen that knowledge. Finally, it also makes sense to go directly to the point when you have to tell bad news. In this case, it’s good to go directly to the point and devote the rest of the time to brief justifications and proposals to reverse the negative scenario.
- Audience: Senior executives and others with very full schedules that may have to leave the meeting before it’s finished. So reach them early.
2 – Metaphor
Metaphor is the expression of an idea based on the concept of the analogy. It consists of parallel reasoning used to explain a concept. The goal in using metaphor is to lead the audience to a thought that can arouse their attention and increase their chances of remembering and understanding certain information.
- Context: When we’re presenting complex information, metaphor makes presentations lighter and easier to understand. It’s a good device for facilitating fast understanding.
- Audience: Metaphor is good with any type of audience, but it’s very useful when an audience is new to a subject and there’s a need to convey technical concepts.
3 – Suspense
Suspense is a way to hold the attention of an audience by creating expectations for a particular piece of news or information.
- Context: The suspense device should be used only when there is a good story to tell or when the outcome is something good. Example: “We had a very difficult year, expectations were bad, but our results were great.” – such a scenario is perfect for suspense. This device can also be used in other situations, like new product launches. But if the news is going to be negative, using suspense is a bad idea.
- Audience: Any type of audience.
4 – Surprise
As much as an audience is interested, it’s normal for attention to wander here and there. It’s been proven that we can only maintain a good level of attention for 10 minutes. Hence, the great ally in all presentations is the surprise factor, which works against this natural reaction, piquing interest and so managing to hold an audience’s attention longer.
- Context: To use the surprise device, simply present something unusual – an unexpected revelation, an attractive picture, an amusing passage. This way people stay alert and focused on the speech, waiting for something unusual to happen again. This strategy can and should be used in almost all types of presentations, especially the longer ones.
- Audience: This device works with any type of audience, but it works better with younger and / or more relaxed audiences.
5 – Conflict X Solution
“Without conflict there is no story.” That’s what American writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) said. Respecting this logic, conflict can be said to be beneficial in the stories that give rise to presentations.
- Context: To use this device, simply call the audience’s attention to a certain problem, package the problem in some of its details or consequences, and in the end provide a solution. This approach works well when there’s a good story for support. Take advantage of the conflict inherent in the story. A conflict well-worked-out captures people’s interest and underlines what you want to highlight.
- Audience: This strategy works especially well when we need to win over audiences that are difficult or who have zero information on a topic.
6 – Humor
People rarely leave unsatisfied if a presentation makes them laugh. Humor generates an emotional involvement that clearly increases the chances of the audience recalling the messages.
- Context: When done right, humor is welcome in any kind of presentation, even those with formal contexts. It’s not about telling jokes – it’s about bringing fun to certain parts of a presentation. If you don’t feel okay using humor, you can select light-hearted images or funny videos that go along with your main message.
- Audience: This device can be used with all kinds of audiences, but, for more formal presentations, be careful how you use it.
7 – Questions
At certain times during a presentation, the presenter can and should ask questions. Besides bringing dynamism to a presentation, the presenter’s questions can help identify trends in the audience, a line of thinking, previous experiences and/or levels of knowledge that can be exploited to get closer to that audience.
Another interesting strategy is to raise private concerns or internal issues in a public venue. In this scenario, the questions are more important than the answers. From a proposed question, the audience can begin to reflect on something not yet perceived to be a problem.
- Context: The presenter arouses the listeners’ attention about an issue and leads them down a certain path using argument and comment.
- Audience: This strategy works on any type of audience, as long as there are no time constraints.
8 – Drama
Although not very common in corporate presentations, there are situations in which using drama is an effective strategy, especially when you want to warn an audience about a risk and/or trigger apprehension.
- Context: Imagine that the presenter knows that a new rule being implemented by the government will jeopardize the company’s main product. At a meeting with the management team the presenter may use the drama strategy, exposing the negative consequences that may arise. After showing the drama side, though, the presenter must introduce a proposal for change, so that the drama becomes the argument in support of the proposal.
- Audience: This technique can be applied to any type of audience, but be careful when using it with corporate audiences.
9 – Being provocative
A provocative approach is based on comments about weaknesses and difficulties the audience might have.
- Context: After mentioning the weaknesses, the presenter offers solutions to the problems they generate and suggests improvements. This is a provocative challenge with a constructive purpose. The goal is to lead an audience to a new solution.
- Audience: This is one of the few strategies that doesn’t apply to just any kind of audience. So use it only when you truly know your audience and know that a provocative challenge will not be unwelcome.
Now that you know the various techniques to hold the attention of your audiences, apply them in your next presentation.
1- Problem: The poorly defined objective
What is the objective of a performance review presentation? To present the performance? Well, if it were, you may as well just email the results.
Most executives prepare business presentations with poor objectives in mind. Not wrong ones, but objectives that just aren’t specific enough. Usually, the objective is either unrealistic (trying to sell a product in the first meeting, rather than scheduling a next meeting); or the objective just isn’t worth it (present results: for what?).
First, ask yourself what you want your audience to DO, THINK and/or FEEL AT THE VERY END of your presentation. Try to go for the “DO.” But if this isn’t possible and you can only target audience feelings or thoughts, ask yourself, “Why is that?”
In the case of the performance review presentation: Do you want to present simply results, or do you want the boss to feel confident about your management skills and think you’re the best person to run the business?
2- Problem: Facts and figures make for a poor story
A sequence of facts and figures does not engage. A story does.
People tend to collect what they believe are important facts and figures, throw them onto slides, and in this way create a presentation deck. But, although the data may be important, the slides will not engage. Worse, data-filled slides don’t touch on the emotions, and this makes it that much harder to move an audience.
Create the story FIRST. Something with a beginning, a middle and a closing. Something that’s going to be interesting even without slides. Then, and only then, open your PowerPoint program and design slides that will support that story without changing it in any way. Do NOT start with the slides!
3- Problem: So what? [aka irrelevant information]
Who matters most in a presentation? The presenter or the audience?
Unfortunately, most presenters spend most of their time and energy talking about what’s most important to them and not what matters to the audience. They brag about the size of their companies, how many employees they have, in how many countries they have offices, how smart and innovative they are.
But think a minute. If you’re the audience, why would you care about any of that? What if a company had more employees and less offices but also something you, the audience, care about and need? If you can picture your audience reacting to a slide and saying, “So what? What do I care about that?” then you need to rethink that message.
For EVERY SINGLE THING you say, think whether it will really, DIRECTLY help your audience. Whether it will make their lives easier and better. Whether they really need it. And if you discover that what you’re saying isn’t going to be of direct benefit to the audience, either get rid of it or repackage it.
4- Problem: Too much text on slides
I know this is obvious. But we still see the vast majority of people doing it. As we’ve written before, a stand-alone presentation should have plenty of text, since a presenter isn’t there to tell the story.
But when you present face-to-face and still use a lot of slide text, you’ve made yourself redundant…. An audience will usually prefer to read the slides at their own pace rather than wait for you to read to them. You’ve become … well, redundant. After all, who needs a presenter for collective reading?
For a face-to-face meeting, use as little text as possible on the slides and you’ll be the most sought-after person in the room.
5- Problem: Screen as teleprompter
This is a close relative of the previous bad idea.
Communication comes from the Latin communicare, which refers to the idea of sharing. And with whom does a presenter share a story? The audience.
But when the presenter depends on the slides to deliver that story and focuses on the screen, the connection with the audience is lost. Audience attention and focus are directed to the screen and away from the presenter. But why would anybody want to watch you interact with a screen? How can you possibly engage somebody in this way?
First, get to know each slide, so you don’t need more than a glance to identify it. Then turn to the audience and tell them the story behind each slide. This way, your connection is with your audience and not the screen, and the audience focus is on you.
Well, with well-defined objectives (short- and long term) you can start to create the story of your presentation first, discover what matters to the audience, bring some facts and figures to support that, and move everybody with a great presentation that breaks with the traditional business presentations.
When the German-born illustrator and designer Christoph Niemann decides to talk about the creation of images, you must stop to listen. Not only for being a highly respected illustrator, but also for being one of the few who understands the power of visuals. Niemann knows how a drawing, no matter how simple, can deeply move the person looking at it.
The designer also understands simplicity, a concept we, here at SOAP, cherish. His work embraces minimalism in an impressive way, using few lines and colors. His uniqueness, as you can see from this TED Talk he gave, is the interaction between drawings and “real” objects, which make his illustrations striking and amusing. They say a lot with few resources.
The power of visual language
According to Niemann, what makes visual language powerful is the possibility of passing on a complex idea in a simple and efficient form, which is something we also endorse for presentations. Most importantly, images can trigger emotions. He uses the Wi-Fi symbol as an example: when we get to a new and unknown place and bump into this symbol, we feel happy, relieved.
When something is deeply engraved in our consciousness, we need fewer details to develop an emotion towards that. By using quite illustrative examples, the designer shows that happens because we are very good at “filling in the blanks”; images are drawn in our minds. Besides, images are excellent tools to start off the audience’s memory, since they are usually easier to take in than the written content of the slides.
Therefore, how much information we need to lead to audience’s comprehension, emotion and memorization? Niemann says his purpose as an artist is to use “the smallest amount as possible”. “As a designer, is absolutely key to have a good understanding of the visual and cultural vocabulary of your audience”, he says. If you read SOAP’S blog, you probably know we always insist on that matter. For a good communication, we must take into consideration the onlookers’ knowledge and references, whether it is one person, or an auditorium filled to capacity.
Niemann also says most people underestimate others’ capacity to interpret images, that’s why we see so many clichés out there. “They won’t understand this new approach, we should go for something more familiar.”
Here at SOAP, we often go through that. It is customary to have our suggestion to use metaphors denied by a client who is insecure and would rather use a most obvious strategy. However, when we make an unexpected association, we trigger the audience’s brain, enabling them to take in the message for longer. This is our job: not just to illustrate, but to develop a visual symbol that will enhance the comprehension of the message.
And Niemann reminds us we should not undervalue people when we create these symbols. After all, they are “fluent” when considering visual language (even if they are unaware of that), a fact to be considered when designing the layout of presentations.
The “Wow!” moment
Niemann considers himself successful when his illustrations have the “Aha!” effect on people. But he highlights it does not mean he had had an eureka moment when he came up with the image. “I need a presentation that has the ‘Wow!’ effect” – that is the reason why most of our clients come to us, because that is our strong suit.
Nevertheless, both SOAP’s and Niemann’s creative process is not “unsexy” at all, since it requires a number of small designing decisions that might lead to an idea. Like in poetry, the designer declares, we might unearth images that have been inside the audience’s mind all along, but they had no idea they were there to begin with.
Niemann concludes by stating what he considers to be an artist’s main feature, or skill: empathy; something we strongly subscribe to here at SOAP and in the projects we develop. Creativity is important, so is methodology, but we need to take a step back and look at the layout through the eyes of the listeners, which are the people to whom that piece of communication was developed. Once we achieved that, magic happens neither on paper nor on stage: it happens inside your audience’s mind.
Okay, you may ask yourself: these people at SOAP are always talking about “Story.” So what is the big deal?
Well, for one thing, it’s been proven that the human brain is more receptive to stories than to lists of facts, bunches of data and the reports that drown us at most presentations. In fact, research tells us that a story has a strong impact on its audience. The main reason for this to happen is that a story brings up emotion (of many different natures, good or bad, but emotion). And so story is a powerful tool for engaging and winning over audiences, regardless of their profiles and backgrounds.
While in business presentations stories can’t replace the important nuts-and-bolts data, they can serve as a background or framework for the presentation of that data. There is a far greater chance for information retention when it’s communicated in a larger context in ways that touch on audience members’ emotions and impress upon the audience the relevance and importance of what’s being presented.
An example? Imagine a bank director who needs the managers to improve customer service. The options for getting this done:
Option 1 – Provide hard data: The director can simply present a multitude of charts and tables on the subject that show the solid results of good customer service.
Option 2 – Tell a story: The director can tell the story of another manager who, by improving customer service practices, leveraged the customer base and so grew sales while also being acknowledged for his/her effort and seeing the professional and personal benefits that come from such acknowledgement.
Clearly the advantage of Option 2 is that instead of showing the managers a bunch of numbers, the director chose to tell a story that would hit home. The managers listened to the story and identified with the emotionally charged context, realizing the benefits that could accrue from a change in behavior. And with that the chances of the managers embracing the proposed new customer service guidelines increased substantially.
The message of this blog post seems obvious (we are always talking about how stories are important), but sometime the obvious is forgotten on our daily routines. So the next time you plan a presentation, don’t forget to tell a story in order to frame your message. Those who hear your presentation will remember that story long after they’ve forgotten all the drab facts and figures, and your message will be recalled long after the presentation is over.
A Q&A session should be the last segment of every presentation you make, as it’s a time when doubts can be clarified and issues further explored. It’s also a great opportunity to interact with your public and learn more about their concerns, questions and interests. So, if you’ve mastered the subject you’re presenting and you feel confident, you should always save some minutes for audience questions at the end of the presentation.
Here are some tips on handling a Q & A session:
1. Announce the session: If you’re sure that there will be time for a Q & A at the end of a presentation, tell your audience early on. This way you avoid interruptions; you can even encourage the audience to make note of their questions as you go along, so you can answer them in the end.
2. Repeat the questions: When you’re presenting in large auditoriums, there should be a microphone available for the audience. If there isn’t, repeat each question into your own microphone before answering. Everybody in the room needs to know what question is being answered.
3. Be brief: Make sure you stick to what is asked and give concise answers, especially if a lot of people are waiting their turn. Also, if you take too long in answering a question, you may annoy the audience and compromise the good impression you made throughout the presentation.
1. Be a mediator: In addition to answering audience questions, be a mediator too. If somebody insists on a point, repeats a question or starts to ramble off-topic, explain that you’ll be happy to address that particular question via email.
2. Relax in the face of hard questions: If you don’t understand a question, ask for a rephrasing. If you don’t know the answer (and this can happen), admit it. (Being honest can only help you with an audience.) Once you’ve said you’re not able to answer well at that moment, tell the questioner that you’ll do some research on the topic and get back to the entire audience on it – by email, for example. (Then again, if you think there’s an audience member qualified to answer that particular question, throw it to that person.)
3. End on time: If a lot of people have questions and you’re running out of time, announce a few minutes beforehand that you can take only one or two more questions. (And you should try to close the session with an answer that strengthens your main message.)
So for your next presentation, make sure you save some time for a Q&A, and use these tips. You’re audience will appreciate it.