Ten smart tips for making your presentations exciting

How to reach your audience

Katja Mayer 03.11.2016
Presenting is a skill that must be learned. It begins with putting the slides together in the right order and creating them properly. It gets even more difficult when you’d like to make your presentation interactive. So we’ve come up with ten smart tips to help you out.
Präsentation, Referat oder Rede optimal gestalten
Körpersprache, Betonungen und Rhetorik spielen eine große Rolle bei Präsentationen.

Many presentations are excruciatingly boring: The speakers read off every point on their slides word by word in a halting voice. Often there is far too much text crammed onto each slide and rendered virtually unreadable by a well-meant but ill-chosen font color against a dark yellow background. And is if that were not enough, the speaker has tried to incorporate every possible transition effect between slides.

No doubt about it: Presentations like that are a pure waste of time. The audience retains next to nothing. What’s more, such a presenter or speaker quickly loses the audience’s good will and damages faith in his or her competence. This is especially regrettable if he or she would have had something truly important to say. Yet holding convincing presentations is easy – if you follow a few basic rules. What are those rules? Read on to find out: 

  1. Where do you start? Determine what prior knowledge of the subject your audience has. The more they know, the less detail you need to cover if you don’t want to bore them. On the other hand, your audience will quickly tune out if they don’t understand your presentation because they lack the necessary background information. The better you are prepared for your audience, the more convincing your presentation will be.
  2. What do you want to accomplish? Consider what the goal of your presentation is. Do you want to provide information about a topic, outline a development or bring about a decision? The style of your presentation will vary greatly according to your objective. The most important thing is that you know the route that will take your audience from the starting to the finish line without a detour: Your audience will only follow you if you stay on this path and avoid getting sidetracked.
  3. Start and finish: Begin with a bang – such as by telling your audience why your presentation is relevant for them. If you expect people to get there earlier, you can help fill their waiting time by adding an extra slide that will make them start thinking about the subject or set the right tone for the presentation. Because you want them to remember the end of your presentation as well, you should also save an “aha” moment for the finale. For example, by providing an outlook on the future – or telling your audience where they can find more detailed information.
  4. Short – and simple: Most presentations are hopelessly overloaded. You can avoid this pitfall by following the 10-20-30 rule from Guy Kawasaki: A maximum of 10 slides, at most 20 minutes presentation time and at minimum 30 pt font size – anything smaller is illegible. Each slide should cover only one thought, expressed in at most four lines. It goes without saying that you should only use keywords if you are going to explain them orally. Make sure that the font contrasts with the background so that the slides are easy to read. Professionals plan only approximately 75 percent of the time in for their actual presentation – the rest is reserved for questions. Even if you finish early, your audience will still think highly of you because most speakers take up too much time rather than too little.
  5. Ensure clarity: Use illustrative examples to captivate your audience. Like the the professor who pours pebbles, sand and water into a bucket one after the other to illustrate how to make the most out of life. In contrast, extensive tables and vast quantities of numbers are totally unsuitable because they place too much strain on the audience. Graphics are better and animation is ideal – although you should not overload your presentation with special effects either.
  6. Be present: Content plays only a small role in determining the impact of your presentation. Body language, accentuation and rhetorical skills are far more influential. In other words, speakers who hide behind the lectern and whose slideshow consists entirely of text are doomed to failure, no matter how brilliant their words. It is better to move, gesticulate and smile – and most importantly maintain eye contact with your audience.
  7. Don’t just read off your slides: Of course you don’t just read off your slides – after all, they contain only the most important key points. You elaborate these points during your presentation and have naturally written some notes for yourself so you don’t forget anything. But please, even if you are a self-conscious bundle of nerves, just write down a few keywords and the important quotes, not your entire speech! Nothing is more boring that a speaker who reads his or her text straight off a piece of paper.
  8. Ensure variety: Stifle any signs of boredom with surprises – by involving your audience in your presentation, making them laugh or using different media. For example, you can pause between slides to develop a thought step by step on a flip chart or whiteboard. Or simply walk towards your audience and ask questions. A simple remote control device, some of which also come with built-in laser pointers, will give you the necessary freedom of movement.
  9. Involve your audience: Don’t forget to ask questions! They are always an effective method for catching your audience’s attention and making your presentation more interactive. Moments in which you want your audience to develop a feel for a certain situation are especially well suited for questions. What do you think: How many presentations are held daily worldwide? An estimated 30 million...?
  10.  Ensure sustainability: A handout for your audience with a brief summary of your presentation and your contact data represents clear added value. It supplies your audience with the basis for the subsequent discussion, offers them the opportunity to reread your theses later at the their leisure and is also a form of advertising for you as an expert – and a speaker.

A presentation encompassing all of this material naturally takes more than an hour to put together. You should plan in at least one full working day for creating a presentation, especially an important one. A large share of that time will be devoted to developing the concept itself, the rest to finding appropriate examples - so take your time! Once you have done that, writing down your ideas is easy – but practicing is hard! Try to find an opportunity to hold a practice run – ideally in front of an audience. Then use their feedback to fine tune your presentation until it is perfect. You will automatically feel more confident and self-assured when you are well prepared.