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Creating Successful Leaders

You’ve all seen it—that mind-numbingly boring presentation that makes your thoughts wander and your eyelids droopy. Or maybe you’ve been the presenter and you noticed your audience’s attention slowly start to drift as they checked their cell phones or doodled in notebooks. But how to engage today’s audience with their short attention spans and long to-do lists? Here are five ideas for jazzing up your presentation and getting people interested:

1. Get people moving

I like to start my presentations by getting my audience up, out of their seats, and moving around. I usually start with some kind of prompt like, “Find the people in the room with the same birth month as you,” or “Find people wearing the same color shirt as you” and gather together. Then, I ask questions relating to my topic and have the group brainstorm answers. This gets people talking to each other and mingling and it energizes the audience for the rest of the presentation.

2. Show YOUR energy

An audience often follows its speaker’s lead. If you don’t seem excited about the topic you’re presenting, why should anyone else? Step away from the podium, use your hands to gesture, show excitement in your tone of voice.  I periodically ask open questions to the audience to keep them engaged. Also, don’t forget to smile! Your positive energy has a direct effect on those watching.

3. It’s all about images

Have you ever seen a PowerPoint presentation that is filled with text? What do you tend to do when the speaker is speaking? That’s right, you read the text! Instead of filling your slides with words, use as many images as possible. Images keep people engaged without distracting them and they act as a prompt to help you remember your place. If you do decide to add some text, keep it to under 20 words per slide. Anything more is overkill and will most likely be too small to read anyway.

4. Use smart handouts

Handouts are nothing new—it’s useful to have a brochure or postcard about your presentation waiting at the seat of each audience member—but some handouts are better than others. The most effective handouts are the ones that keep the audience’s attention throughout your talk. I’ve found that fill-in-the-blank handouts work great if you want people to really engage with what you are saying. They force your audience to pay attention and listen for when you’ll give them the answer to the next blank space. Here’s an example:

3 Ws of Success5. Make it personal

Know your audience. If you’re talking to a group of teachers, make specific references to the educational field; if you’re talking to a group of bankers, reference finance in your talk. You don’t have to be over the top with your references, but you do want to make your audience realize the value of your words and understand how, specifically, your presentation relates to them. That way, they won’t be left wondering how to apply the information you gave them.

Take the boredom and drudgery out of presentations. Apply these five steps and I guarantee you’ll have a room full of alert, interested audience members and chances are you’ll enjoy the presentation as well!


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