A PowerPoint Tutorial.

Keep Your Audience Happy

What do you do when you're stuck in the middle of a mind numbingly boring and frustrating PowerPoint presentation? Being the passive recipient of the presentation limits your choices. The chances are that you won't stand on a chair and start waving your arms about and then complain about your frustrations.

So, what are the usual suspects for the root causes of the PowerPoint Coma? What you must first do is not blame PowerPoint itself, but hold the presenter wholly responsible. After all, the most charismatic speaker is able to hold their audience in rapture with no supporting materials whatsoever. The introduction of PowerPoint to the stage should bring only a positive influence.

Let's first look at what can go wrong in a presentation:

  • The speaker does not present their material well. This could be for a variety of reasons, like:
    • their voice is too quiet
    • they speak in monotones, as opposed to bringing emphasis and expression to the way they use their voice.
    • a variety of other problems in the way that the voice is used: rushing too fast, stuttering etc
  • The presenter does not engage with his or her audience. Increasing eye contact, using light hearted humour (in a natural way!), allowing time for the audience to ask questions and interact with the presenter - these things can all increase engagement and improve the rapport between presenter and audience.
  • The presentation itself is designed badly. The information the presenter intends to impart may be unclear, fonts may be too small, the logical flow of ideas may be ... illogical etc.

You'll notice that all of the above impediments to giving a great presentation would also impede your efforts at mere conversation, too. And that's part of the trick. Imagine you were having a conversation, a dialogue with each of your audience members and you will fare better than imagining them as inanimate objects you need to speak at.

So what is a good starting point for ensuring that you keep your audience members interested and fully engaged? You must create your PowerPoint presentation with them in mind. Ground breaking stuff, huh? You would think that this little nugget would be pretty obvious, but you would be amazed (or perhaps not) at the number of presentations delivered each year that don't have the audience in mind.

How do we "keep the audience in mind" when creating our presentations? Here are five easy ways to do it:

  1. Speak clearly and expressively. Ensure that the people at the back can hear, and use appropriate emphasis. If you are relating something that is supposed to be exciting, try and convey excitement in your voice. Remember how you used to read stories to your five year old niece? That's what you need. Obviously, don't overcook this, unless your audience consists of five year olds.
  2. Pitch your presentation at the right level. Tailor the information to its recipients. Make sure that it's a "good fit" and that you are delivering the information that they want/need.
  3. Personalise. Try to include titbits of information from their lives that relate to the topic at hand. Make your presentation relevant.
  4. Be calm, confident and happy. Welcome questions and see them as a chance to improve the understanding your audience has of the subject matter.
  5. On the subject of questions: give adequate time for people to ask them. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even ask questions of them too. "Would this make your lives better? How?", "I can see problems with this approach - anyone else see problems?"
  6. Record ideas that your audience has. You'll need the old flipchart (or equivalent) for this. The audience will feel more engaged if they are shaping the content of your presentation with their own ideas. You will also be giving them the strong message that you value their input and that it is worth something.