How much time do you take to design your presentation? Days? Weeks? Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you find the right design elements? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could create a remarkable keynote presentation in a day or two? I think anyone can do it, if they pay attention to the following presentation techniques and manage to combine them in a way that helps them put the right ideas in the right context.
Achieving presentation flow is a challenging task. Not everyone has a knack for design. So pay attention to each of these ideas, both the simpler ones and the more complex, and make your own combo to improve delivery and convince your audience.
1. Visuals are your friend
Using different types of visuals can be a great way to help your audience remember and react. Photos, illustrations, icons, symbols, sketches, figures, and diagrams are much more easy for the brain to retain than words. Think of a company logo for example - how many times has your brain recognized the logo even before you remembered the name of the brand?
Another great thing about using imagery is that it makes you more charismatic. It seems that speakers are seen as more charismatic when otherwise identical speeches contain more imagery. Here’s a great example - a former US president’s inaugural address was rewritten to create low and high imagery versions in an experiment. The audio recordings of the two speeches were played for the participants to the study who were randomly assigned. After listening to the speech, they provided ratings on various summary leadership measures. The result? The speech with high imagery was attributed to a more charismatic person.
2. Keep the presentation short and to the point
Thousands of psychological, neurobiological and social science studies have been conducted on how humans “pay attention.” The famous Microsoft “study” claimed that the human attention span went from 12 seconds on average in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015, which is shorter than that of a goldfish. What most of these studies concluded is that, most of the time, we don’t pay attention. It’s just how our brain works.
Keep your presentation short and sweet and, more importantly, simple. Even if your ideas are complex, you need to find a way to help your audience focus and follow your speech. Make sure your slides are not too busy if you want the audience to listen to you instead of reading slides.
3. The rule of three
This is a rather well-known technique that’s based on the fact that people tend to only remember three things. When you design the flow of your presentation, work out what the three messages that you want your audience to take away are. Then, structure your presentation around them, using the right design elements to separate the three.
The same rule can be applied to an individual slide - it’s recommended that you use a maximum of three points on a slide. Make sure that they aren’t bullet points or presenter notes. Those should not be on the screen when you’re doing a keynote speech. If Google's CEO does not use bullet points, neither should you.
Also read: 5 Pro Tips For Giving Better Presentations
4. Focus on telling stories instead of throwing numbers
Even if you have a technical or scientific topic to present, you still need to tell a story. That is the essence of a keynote speech, to be memorable, emotional, compelling. And that means storytelling.
Tell stories and anecdotes to help you illustrate your ideas and your research. This will definitely make your presentation more effective and memorable. In a UCLA study, students were asked to recall a series of speeches they had heard. Only 5 percent remembered any individual statistic, while 63 percent remembered the stories presented in those speeches.
“Things are not what they seem.” It’s that to get people to sit on the edge of their chair or to get them involved in your story, the audience has to constantly discover something new.
Howard Suber, UCLA
5. Know what slide is coming next
Memorizing every single word in a presentation is not a good idea. That’s why you shouldn't have chunks of text altogether. But knowing what slide comes next is a must. Even if you are an amazing speaker and you’ve been really busy so you've had the presentation made for you, go through it at least once before.
It helps to build trust and keep the audience engaged when you say “On the next slide [Click] you will see…”, rather than than act confused when the next slide appears. It will also help with the flow of the presentation.
6. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Practice is key for public speaking. Many experts say that rehearsal is the biggest single thing that you can do to improve your performance. This technique will make you so comfortable with the presentation content that you won’t need notes or prompts and you’ll appear conversational but knowledgeable.
Perform your presentation out loud at least four times. You can try something different each time: one in front of your friends or colleagues, one alone and one in front of a real scary audience, for good measure. You should also try to do a video recording of a rehearsal. It will help you spot improvement points, from how you are standing, if you are jangling keys, to how well your presentation is structured.
7. Have an emergency plan
This does not include running off the stage. But it is a well known fact that something is bound to go wrong. It’s either the projector, the lights, the audio, the laptop, the fonts, etc. It’s always good to have a back-up plan. This way you won’t be blindsided, stressed and confused in case something goes off track. A useful tip is to check out the presentation room beforehand, so that you know what could go wrong.
Murphy’s kit: Have a printed out set of slides, data stick of your presentation and a laptop with your slides on it.
8. Involve the audience
One of the most powerful presentation techniques is inviting the audience in and have them contribute in some way. This will get them emotionally invested and it will differentiate you from inexperienced, nervous speakers.
Plan a inclusion of the audience in your presentation somewhere. It can be a slide with a question, a game or just an empty slide to help you connect with people and re-gain their full attention. Here are some ideas for audience activities–from a simple show of hands, to requests for brief personal input, to role playing and games, to small group exercises- and their merits:
- The show of hands is good for polling the audience and gaining real-time feedback. It lets audience members know where they stand with respect to the group.
- Brief personal input reveals the diversity of experience in the room.
- Role playing and games are excellent for practicing sales situations and interpersonal responses.
- Group exercises allow participants to learn from each other.
9. Don’t read off the slides word for word
Please. Your audience is surely capable of doing that for themselves. They don’t need you to be standing in front of them reading off the screen.
Build your presentation in a way that it provides context for your speech, with visual elements and clear, simple ideas. Use your slides as outlines or conversation points that you build on, just like you would in a normal discussion. Experienced speakers often use slides to add a quick parenthetical note to something they’re saying to the audience.
10. Find the right speed
Most people go too fast. Mostly because they’re nervous or they’re pressured by the time constraints of the format. It’s really easy to rush through your content and speak very quickly, especially if you’re panicked. But it’s much easier for an audience to engage with your content and remember something if your delivery falls into a natural rhythm. Pace yourself and remember to punctuate your speech with pauses to emphasise key points.
Here’s a great exercise shared by Sims Wyeth, who learned it from Marian Rich, a voice and speech teacher in New York who worked with many famous actors to help them improve their vocal presence.
“The exercise will teach you that your voice is a wind instrument, and you must have ample air in your lungs to play it well.
Mark a paragraph / in this manner / into the shortest possible phrases. / First, / whisper it / with energetic lips, / breathing / at all the breath marks. / Then. / speak it / in the same way. / Do this / with a different paragraph / everyday. / Keep your hand / on your abdomen / to make sure / it moves out / when you breathe in / and moves in / when you speak.
Before you whisper each phrase, take a full bellyful of air and then pour all the air into that one phrase. Keep your throat open, and don't grind your vocal chords. Lift your whisper over your throat. Pause between phrases. Relax. Then, take another full breath and whisper the next phrase. Whisper as if you were trying to reach the back of the room.
Once you've whispered the paragraph, then go back to the start and speak it in a conversational way, but again, pour all the air into each phrase and honor the silence between phrases. I can't stress that enough. Take your own sweet time at the forward slashes.”
If you’re more of a slow talker, with a constant calm rhythm, you might run the risk of boring the audience. Keep people awake and interested by learning to increase your speaking speech without losing articulation and thought clarity. Start by learning what makes you slow. Record a one-minute monologue on tape and use a stopwatch or second hand; listen for the following types of slow spots.
11. Include some humor
Humor can be one of the most powerful techniques for giving a great keynote presentation. You can use it in the beginning to relieve the tension in the room and help ease the transition into the bulk of the content. Appropriate humor that's true to you let's your audience get a sense of your personality and makes for a memorable presentation.
If you’re not a natural punster, do not despair. Anything can be learned. Here are a few techniques you can try:
- Exaggeration: "Then I talked to a woman whose voice was so high only the dog could hear it."
- Puns: "Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now."
- Self-deprecation: "And then, even though I knew it was too hot to eat, I bit into the pizza anyway. Because, clearly, I am an idiot."
- Wordplay: "She brought me a plate of french fries instead. At least I thought they were French because they had an attitude and wore berets."
- References: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
12. Follow Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule
Guy Kawasaki wrote that a presentation “should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points”. Although this was meant for entrepreneurs creating pitch decks, it’s a useful pointer for keynote speeches as well, especially from a design point of view.
Opt for a legible font and type size. Don’t use eccentric fonts that will make it impossible to make out the actual words. Stick to standard, easy-to-read fonts, preferably sans-serif (fonts such as Arial or Helvetica).
13. Pause from time to time
Both in your speech and in your presentation, white space is an important component. Whitespace is a fundamental building block of good design. Its one of the first thing any visual designer is taught. However, to many speakers it is simply a waste of space that could be used to better promote their message or express an additional idea.
Speech pauses allow you to punctuate your spoken words, giving your listeners clues as to when one phrase, one sentence, or one paragraph ends, and the next begins. Brigitte Zellner notes that pauses “participate in rendering human communication more intelligible. (...) In other words, pauses “stick out like sore thumbs”, and thus may occupy “beacon” positions in speech, serving to structure the entire utterance for both speaker and listener.”
14. Try some icebreakers
Why not reference some fun facts? Or have audience members introduce themselves? The most effective keynotes are both informative and enjoyable at the same time.
“For the brain to remember, presenters must deviate from a pattern in some significant way.”
Carmen Simon, co-founder of Rexi Media
Although not everyone is comfortable with icebreakers it doesn’t hurt to try one or two and see how they work for your keynote. Here are some different icebreaker ideas.
15. Make it thematic
Another out of the box idea is to make the most of an upcoming or recent event/holiday/movie release etc. and create a thematic presentation. Go for a memorable appearance, costume and all, and a well-designed presentation to accompany your speech. Get the audience to remember your presentation by connecting it to something they like or even dislike. The emotional connection will help spark a valuable conversation and it will increase the chances of people remembering your ideas.
Connections among elements in memory can make a real difference. Art Markman uses the analogy of a bowl of peanuts in his book Smart Thinking. He says that if you take peanuts out one at a time, you get three peanuts when you reach into the bowl three times. But, if you pour caramel over the peanuts, then when you pull one out, you get a whole cluster. After you draw from the bowl three times, you may have gotten almost all of the peanuts out. Memory functions in a similar way. By encouraging connections among the key points in your talk, you help pour caramel over the peanuts in memory and increases the amount that people remember from what you present.
16. Stay connected
Make sure you have an offering for the gods of social media. A tweetable bit on a slide, a hashtag to connect online and to encourage comments and debates or a website with online resources. Connect this technique with the one on involving the audience and you’ll get online engagement as well as offline.
Your “tweetables” should resonate with the audience and to do that they need to be catchy. Use strong verbs and keep it short. Think about what you want your audience to take away from your presentation.
17. Share your slides after the event
It’s nice to build a long term relationship with your audience. After all, they will be the ones ensuring your the growing reach of your ideas. Sharing your slides is a great way to help them recall the content of your presentation. It’s also a great way to encourage engagement after the event so don’t forget to include the date, time and title of the presentation as well as your contact details.
Let them know that you’ll be making the slides available from the very beginning of the presentation so that they don’t feel the need to spend too much time taking notes instead of watching you. But don’t share your slides before the presentation otherwise you’ll spoil the show and give people an excuse to leave without watching.
What are some other powerful presentation techniques that work for you?