The key to a powerful presentation is to connect with members of your audience individually. This ‘human element’ is what makes the difference between an average presentation with some good information, and an excellent presentation that really impacts audience members on a personal level.
The bigger the audience, the harder this gets. You have to remember that an audience is made up of many different individuals, all with their own unique interests and expectations. It is hard to satisfy every person every time, but you can take some steps to ensure that your audience members feel a connection with you as a speaker and as a person.
1. Create a friendly environment
From the moment the first audience member arrives, you should exude positive energy. Remember that people will immediately make first impressions about you before you even begin your presentation. It is important that you appear positive, friendly, confident and approachable.
2. Face your audience
There is nothing worse than watching the back of a presenter’s head as he reads his Power Point slides. Make sure that you are always facing your audience. Visual aids are just that: aids. The audience should be focused on you, not your slides.
3. Make eye contact
Do your best to make eye contact with every member of your audience. Don’t get distracted by things you see out the window, or by the clock on the back wall. Your listeners’ eyes will follow your eyes, so if they see you looking out the window, they’ll wonder what you’re looking at and they’ll look too! Keep their focus on you by remaining focused on them.
Be careful that you don’t focus too much on one or two people, as it could make them feel uncomfortable. An exception to this rule could be if you are focusing on the most important people in the group: the decision-makers (your boss, the top client, etc.). They might expect extra attention from you, which leads me to the third point…
4. Know your audience
Do your homework. Know who will be attending your presentation and why. If you are pitching a new idea, make sure you keep the full attention and interest of the key players in the room—the decision makers.
Be sure to prepare your presentation with your audience members in mind. Have you taken into consideration their needs and expectations? Are you giving them the information that they want (or maybe need) to hear in a format that will appeal to them?
5. Tell stories
Throughout history, some of the greatest thinkers have reverted to storytelling to make their lessons more clear. Philosophers and religious leaders especially, have used stories to illustrate complex concepts and moral values.
Use real-life stories that your listeners can relate to in order to drive a point home and have it be remembered. People are also more interested in listening to a good story than a boring lecture.
6. Use humor
Humor, when used effectively, can lighten the mood, make people feel more relaxed and help them to remember the things you say. Using humor does not mean you should suddenly become a stand-up comedian rattling off jokes right and left. It shouldn’t be forced either.
Use common sense and your best judgment when interjecting humor. And remember that not everyone has the same sense of humor—what you think is funny could be dumb, immature or disrespectful to someone else. If in doubt, refrain.
7. Be respectful
This point really goes without saying, but just to be clear: racist, sexist and elitist comments are unacceptable in every public presentation. Have respect for every member of your audience at all times!
8. Read your audience
You need to pay attention to your audience just as much as you would like them to pay attention to you. An attentive speaker will notice when energy levels are low, listeners are losing interest, or individuals are not paying attention. It’s your job to change the situation in your favor. This is a good time to tell a story, inject humor, or maybe just take a break.