Presentations Are Visual Events

Unlike the pure rhetoric in a speech, today, presentations are visual events. No ifs ands or buts. Audiences expect a performance and props, not just words.   Thanks to great showmen like Steve Jobs, the preso bar has been permanently raised.  

Of course, presentations need compelling content--a good story. But they need to keep the mind AND eye engaged.

Engage the eyes and you engage the audience. There are a number of elements that are critical to keeping the audience's eyes and attention.

Let's look at the most important visual presentation element: You!

The first thing an audience sees is you. And most studies tell us the audience will make an impression of you within ten seconds.  How can you be a visual presenter the audience will remember? Here are a few tips to keep the visual aspect in high gear:

1. Walk with confidence and credibility. How you initially appear on stage can create the impression of power and authority.
2. Use your hands moderately. Don't over use gestures, but do use them.  A good rule of thumb is to occasionally use a gesture to imitate an idea or word (for example, you could talk about growth and use your hand in a slightly upward motion).
3. Don't look back at your slides--always look at the audience. This keeps a visual connection going with your listeners.
4. A presenter is an actor engaging the audience. Actors are not stiff when they interact. Use your natural body gestures the same way you would in a conversation with friends.
5. Your voice can also be a visual tool. If you modulate your voice and use it to emphasize a word, the audience  pays attention much more than if you were a monotone. Pumping an idea by projecting your voice keeps the audience engaged.

Remember, presentations should engage both the mind and eye. Relevant content will engage the audience mentally and your presence on stage can engage their eyes!


Speech vs Presentation
 There's a big difference between a speech and a presentation. We listen to speeches; we watch a presentation. These days, presentations are visual. A speech tends to be formal and for ears only. If you're giving a speech, you're naked.  No PPT, no props. A  speech is often just you at a podium with your compelling ideas. Think Martin Luther King Jr; think formal; think words only.

Speaker and Ideas
If you've ever heard a great speech, you know it's going to be good within a minute or so. It grabs you by the power of language and ideas. Steve Jobs broke out of presenter mode and became a master speech giver in his Stanford graduation speech. And  Harry Potter's creator, J K Rowling wowed the graduation crowd at Harvard with her commencement address. Both used ideas alone to grab the crowd. It was the power of their words that won hearts and minds.

Speech "Must Haves"
So, what goes into a great speech? If you have to give a speech, think of three critical "must haves":

1. Create a Compelling Story. Speeches are not just informative, they tend to pull the audience in around a story or theme.
2. Touch Audience Emotions.  Very often, a speech will charge us up, get us involved, pull at our hearts, make us think.
3. Use Language that Grabs Listeners. A speech tends to use language that is memorable--phrases that jump out and stick in our heads: "Ask not What Your Country Can Do For You.." or "We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself" or  "I Have a Dream."
4. Use Imagery. Create mental pictures that pull your listeners in. 
5. Focus on One Main Idea.  A really good speech zeroes in on one main point. You can explain it with a number of sub-points, but it's not about 3 or 4 ideas.

Next post: How presentations are different from speeches


What does a great presentation have in common with a great wine?

When you open a great wine, it impresses you right away. It has structure and body, and a finish that lingers. Most of all, you remember it. The same with a great presentation!

Opening: When you design your next presentation, think of the first thing your audience sees and hears. Is it a lot of chit chat, “thank yous," “glad to be hear” kind of ramblings, and maybe your agenda? Not memorable at all. Grab the audience with a question or statement that makes them think…an intriguing idea, and THEN you can back in with your agenda. Like a good wine, first impressions are critical.

Structure: With wine, structure refers to those components that support the body of the wine, holding it together, giving it lift and intensity. Same with your presentation. The audience will need very easily heard sections that logically flow one to the next and support the main idea of your presentation. Think of it as having chapters in a story: one logically leads to the next.

Body: For wine drinkers, the body of a wine can be light, medium bodied, or full bodied. It doesn’t change as you drink. In your presentation, try to be consistent in your tone and content. It’s OK to have touch of humor, but overall, if your content starts “medium bodied” stay that way throughout.

Finish: The finish of a great wine lingers, you savor it; you don’t want it to end. The same with your presentation. Grab the audience with an image, an idea, a call to action that they will remember. How many presentation endings can you remember right now? My guess is, not many. But if planned right, your ending will linger in the mind long after you stop talking.

So, when designing your next presentation, think about the characteristics of a great Cabernet or Zinfandel for your inspiration. And of course, after presenting, (and this is the best part…) you can reward yourself with a fine glass of vintage vino!


Presentations are not static, lifeless events.

They should be energetic, full of energy and keep the audience engaged at all times! How can you ensure that your next presentation isn't just a bunch of slides that you click through?

1. Clean up your deck. Don't have lots of slides with heavy content. If you give the audience words to read, they will. What's worse is, so will you! Eyes like to read. So every time your eye sees text, you'll be tempted to read it and then you won't be in conversation mode. When in doubt, cut it out! Cut as much off the slide as you can.

2. Cut back on slides. PPT is an addiction. Once you get started, you end up wanting  more and more slides. The less slides the better. Clicking thru a bunch of slides hypnotizes the audience. More you, less slides.

3. Don't present: converse!  Conversation is king. Talk with the audience, pull them into your story. If you present facts and figures, you're presenting. Talk about the "why" and the "how" and you'll have more of a conversation. Best of all,  you'll be more natural and authentic!



When presenting, you're selling.

You're selling your ideas and messages. But we so often forget that, and get wrapped up in "our stuff."

How many times have you sat thru a presenation where the presenter  had no idea how to sell his or her story? They just rambled on about stuff.

Stuff like features or functions or data or initiatives, statistics, sales figures. Stuff. And probably stuff you didn't care about.

Good salespeople know you sell on value. What would be of value to your listeners? What would THEY care about? It's not YOUR stuff they care's THEIR stuff.

So next time you're presenting, have a conversation about what's valuable to your audience and sell a story that matters to your listeners. 

Presentations Are...Part of Your 2012 Resolutions

What are your 2012 New Year resolutions?  Going to hit the gym more often? Eat more fruits and vegetables?  Cut back on the wine? (Oh, no...let's get that one off the list!)

How about resolving to do five things better as you present in the year 2012?  Nothing grand or undo-able. Just five simple changes that can reap big rewards. This year, resolve to: 

1. Tell a STORY and not just present data.
2. Come in UNDER your allotted time, not go over!
3. Cut back on slide junk and make slides that are  clean and UNCLUTTERED.
4. Remember, it's all about the AUDIENCE! And,

Presentations are a wonderful way to get your brand out there and engage with colleagues.  Have a great new year presenting your knowledge and passion!


Great presenters connect with their audience.

They establish that connection early and continue it throughout their speaking. Notice, I didn't say throughout their "presentation." If you are really connecting, you are having a conversation within your presentation. That's what makes for a great connection.

How do you connect?

By telling stories, using examples that resonate, by asking questions, by involving your audience in your story.

How do you disconnect?

By flipping thru slides; by data dumping; by "telling and yelling"; by ignoring the clues your audience is sending you.

How would you connect with someone at a party or event? You'd ask them questions, you'd listen, you'd talk about something they were concerned about, you'd be a human being who showed respect, and you'd try to be interesting! Same rules apply when speaking to a large or small group.

Next time you prepare for a speaking event, keep the idea of connections as a thread you weave throughout your talk. You and your audience will be better off connected than disconnected!