Supercompetent Speaking: Adding Flair to Your Presentations

It’s easy to forget that our greatest success comes when we obviously like our work—and when we can transmit that enjoyment to our audience.

Whenever you give a presentation, you owe it to your audience to give them more than their money’s worth. But sometimes, an important part of the presentation gets lost in the bustle of doing research, preparing graphics, and rehearsing—enjoying yourself! It’s easy to forget that our greatest success comes when we obviously like our work—and when we can transmit that enjoyment to our audience.

This month, I’ll show you a few ways to add flair to your presentations, so you can better attract and retain the attention of your audience members.

  • Let your enthusiasm show. Emotions are contagious, particularly when you’re the center of a group’s attention. You either believe in what you’re saying, or don’t expect your audience to believe in you. Let your interest and passion show! You don’t have to climb on the tables and run around the stage, gesticulating wildly like some presenters do, but you can show how excited you are about your subject. If you’re not feeling particularly enthusiastic, do jumping jacks backstage or in the hall to at least get your blood flowing.
  • Start with something memorable. In 2008, the late Steve Jobs kicked off the Macworld Conference & Expo by saying, “There is something in the air today,” before introducing Apple’s brand-new MacBook Air laptop. He then demonstrated the amazing fact that it was so thin it would fit into a normal interoffice envelope. If you have a product to sell, follow Jobs’ lead and show your audience something amazing about it. Even if you’re not selling, introduce a startling statistic, anecdote, or quote that grabs your audience and pulls them into the presentation immediately.
  • Apply the Rule of Three. In Western culture, we expect things to come in threes: the Three Bears, the Three Stooges, the Three Kings, the Three Musketeers, and the Big Three of this or that industry. We perceive things that come in threes to be more important, satisfying, or effective—even funnier. When you tell a joke, make the third element or word the funniest. When you make your points, use the Rule of Three to emphasize them. To provide a more satisfying experience for the audience, consider limiting yourself to three main points or three rules.
  • Hit your main points hard. Studies show that most people retain only about 5 percent of a presentation less than 24 hours after hearing it, so do something to make sure the 5 percent they remember includes your important takeaway points. Offer a dramatic fact or statistic that hits home. Or make your points rhyme or anchor them with a memorable gesture. Return to your points again during your wrap-up, to remind them of what really matters, and emphasize them again if you have an opportunity during the Q&A.
  • Tell a story. People love stories—as long as they’re associated with what you’re talking about and have a point. Don’t interrupt a sparkling presentation about productive travel with a story of your visit to your uncle’s farm as a kid—unless it’s directly connected with what you’re trying to say.
  • Use humor. An appropriate, well-placed joke now and then can help relax the audience. The only exception is if you’re no good at telling jokes. Use a funny photo instead. A bad joke that falls flat can damage credibility, especially if you’re not known for your sense of humor. And remember, as with stories, your humor must be associated with your topic.
  • Use striking visuals. My slides mostly consist of a few words or a phrase with a great photo or background and great font. I want the audience paying attention to me and my point, not reading my slides (or me reading it to them as some presenters do). Plain, hard-hitting visuals anchor ideas in the listener’s mind. Instead of a bulleted list with six bullets, I’d create six slides. I’m very sparing with animations or “flying” elements, unless they themselves are impactful or make a point. The way many presenters use them is distracting.

For every exciting, uplifting presentation you’ve experienced, you’ve probably drowsed through a dozen boring presentations that droned on far too long. I’ll bet you can barely remember what any of the droners said now. It profits you, then, to make your own presentations as exciting and interesting as possible. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Bill Cosby, but try to inject some flair into your presentation to bring it to life. Even if your audience remembers only a few percent of your speech the next day, you want it to be the few percent that inspires them to make changes in their lives.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, Stack has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. Stack is the bestselling author of six books, with more than 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, “Execution IS the Strategy” (March 2014). An expert in the field of performance and workplace issues, Stack has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.