This is a guest post by Benjamin Loh.
“What if… what I’m saying is not interesting to my audience?”
Of the many concerns I get from the clients I have coached, the fear of being uninteresting (or boring) is probably one of the most common ones.
After all, you’re presenting a crowd of people whom you don’t know well. Yet, you have to take it upon yourself to present your content and vulnerability in an open stage and be even more interesting than their iPhones and Blackberries? Are you kidding?
I kid you not. Making you presentation interesting is important quite simply because… no one likes listening to boring presentations. We get distracted easily and once we disconnect, it’s difficult to take in information unless there’s a strong impetus to. It is in my opinion that there are no boring presenters in this world; there are only lazy ones.
Here are 21 different ways you can make your presentation become more interesting so your audience goes from dozing off in lethargy to jumping off with excitement after your presentation.
Using Delivery Techniques
1. Gesticulate Purposefully
The words ‘body language’ are termed as such for a good reason. Our bodies convey the beauty of language and are worlds of their own. In as much as your spoken word has the ability to paint vivid imagery and rouse emotions, consider the fact that the “words” your body can tell adds an element of visual amplification.
Gesticulate as with what you’re intending to convey. If there are three points you want to share, raise three fingers. If you are asking your audience to raise their hands, raise your own hands first. If you are sharing a story of exasperation and dejection, throw your hands up in the air then drive your clenched fists down as if you’re at your wits end. It’s not rocket science, really.
For more on body language: 10 Tips to Improve Your Body Language
This technique works extremely well when you have different personas to portray when telling a story. Dramatization refers to acting out of and also exaggerating the differences of various characters so you add depth and shades to the different personalities. Think how you are segueing in and out of a mini drama performance from your presentation.
3. Make Use of Humor
Humor, when delivered in a timely and appropriate manner, allows you to melt down the “walls” between your audience and you as a presenter. In fact, it has been said that, “once you get your audience laughing, you can get them to do almost anything”.
Though you want to avoid the usual “landmines” in humor by not treading into the content nature of sex, politics and religion and also refrain from using canned jokes or Googling “funny stories” off the Internet. When in doubt, self-deprecating humor or anecdotes of hilarious experiences are good bets to get your audience tickled for a start. For those who are serious on excelling the humorous track, keep a black book with you and build up your story bank over time.
4. Involve your Audience
This crosses the line into facilitation but the basis of involving your audience is genius.
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” (Chinese proverb)
The reason why audience involvement in a presentation can be so powerful is because you tap into their different senses and create experiences for them in the process instead of them being passive recipients of information. In doing so, you create powerful memory anchors so they still are able to reenact the experience and recall the lessons even after your presentation.
It could be asking them to raise their hands if they agree to a certain statement or getting them to move around the room and introduce themselves to others while being conscious of their self-talk. Lessons when experienced and internalized create permanence.
5. Use Silence
(…) Yes, I am referring to the awkward spaces in between your strings of words. It’s the moment of deep discomfort and unsettledness for many presenters when it’s so quiet that you can hear as much as a pin dropping on the ground. But it’s also a moment of magic for speakers who understand and appreciate the beauty of a pause well timed and silence impeccably delivered.
Pauses or the silence that results, are essential in allowing your points to sink in for your audience and for them to engage in introspection and retrospection when you prompt them to. Well-timed silences are necessary windows in adding emotional depth to your presentation after you’ve shared a moving story, life-changing encounter or a poignant lesson. Otherwise, these “gems” get relegated to chunks of information that were hardly processed.
This is probably one of the most accessible “tools” as a presenter and speaker but also grossly under-used. Most of the time, presenters are too engrossed with their content that they are speaking to themselves instead to their audience and are not making conscious effort to connect with them. A genuine smile conveys enthusiasm, openness and energy. It makes you interesting as a presenter because you let your audience know that you are not frazzled but in the “flow” and are enjoying the experience being up on stage.
7. Bookend your Presentation
Like how a pair of identical bookends keeps your books together, this technique starts and ends your presentation in a similar fashion. The two most defining moments of a presentation are when you start and end. How bookending your presentation actually works is first, capture your audience’s attention at the start. Then, move into your presentation proper. Finally towards the end of your presentation, you weave in your call to action by picking up from where you left off at the start.
For example, you could be presenting on ‘The 3 Lessons I Learnt as a Competitive Runner”.
Start off by engaging your audience with a vivid description of the intensity of the moment just before the start line of an ultra endurance race you’re taking part in and then describing the juncture when your physical body bails on you and you break out in cold sweat and cramps. Then, segue out into your 3 key points of your speech. Finally, lead towards a call to action by bringing your audience back to the “troubled point” and how you eventually pushed yourself to finish the race when you looked at the ‘Live Strong’ wristband your wife gave you.
8. Make Use of the Stage
When you are presenting on a stage or have adequate open space, do not just hide behind a podium or be permanently rooted at one point. As a rule of thumb, move purposefully so your motion is congruent with the spoken word and avoiding shuffling around frivolously. Understanding stage placements from the context of Drama and Theatre is greatly useful for presenters as well.
For example, if you are presenting on the year-on-year sales figures for the past 5 years – start off from the Stage Right and take a step towards Stage Left for every year and explain what are the key changes and highlights for the year. For the more advanced speakers, techniques like a full circle stage positioning (i.e. Down Center -> Right Center -> Up Center -> Left Center -> Down Center) helps to cement an easy logical flow when you’re presenting about a process.
Also, specific placements on stage aid in invoking different emotional responses from you audience like ‘Left Center’ is ideal for acting out emotional episodes while ‘Down center’ is the prime spot for connecting with your audience and rallying your audience to act.
This technique works if there are speakers who have spoken before you and were huge hits with your audience. Effectively, you are riding on the “hype” that has been created by your preceding speakers. Say a speaker, Jack, had your audience in stitches after sharing about his “golden gavel of grace that had saved him from misfortunes.
In your speech, you may then also be speaking about your getting into trouble with the authorities but what you wished you had at that moment of truth was the… Jack’s “golden gavel of grace” (laughter) But tough luck, the authorities roasted you instead!
Using Delivery Aids
10. Read Aloud from a Book
There is an unexplained charm about having a person read aloud with a book in his hand. Perhaps it has its roots in folklore or that some of us have had the privilege of having our parents read us to sleep with our favorite storybooks when we were much younger.
Yet, what truly stands out for a speaker in reading aloud with a book is the visual element of the book as well as the immersion of the audience in the context of the book. This is especially true for fiction-type literature. My mentor once read out the following paragraph during his life-coaching workshop with whole intention and emotion,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
As an audience, I was immersed in the experience. Compare that to telling your audience, “live your life to the fullest”.
Some awesome books to check out: Ask Celes: What Books Would You Recommend?
11. Do a Demonstration
No one does demonstrations as well as the late Steve Jobs. A good product demonstration builds up anticipation, elegantly explains the product succinctly and “wows” the audience. His Macbook Air’s demonstration at MacWorld 2008 remains a superb show of technical demonstrations.
The maxim, “If you have it, flaunt it!” applies exactly when you have a product or technical process to showcase and demonstrate.
12. Play a Video
It can be a video clip of a scene from a movie or an infomercial or documentary. Videos are highly persuasive visual aids because it transcends the physical limitations of a presenter in real-time and bring forth content in myriad engaging manners. But that is not to say that speakers should be overly reliant on videos lest their presentations become a facilitation of a video slideshow.
For example, if you want to explain the Global Financial Crisis, this is how you do so in 96 seconds. Or if you want to explain the irony in the way highly intellectual people communicate, show them how Sheldon Cooper thinks about friendships in algorithms.
13. Play a Song
Songs are rich in emotions and express more meaning through the lyrics, tonality, melody and the orchestration than just through words alone. If you are running a presentation on Zen and Meditation, play a soothing piece and get your audience to close their eyes and visualize. The song engages your auditory elements and can be an essential facilitation tool during your presentation.
Check out: 56 Most Inspirational Songs of All Time
14. Sing a Song (or Dance, Juggle or Perform)
If you have the flair for singing in public, this is for you. Take the stage, be proud of your craft and strut your stuff. Think of your presentation also as a performance and then it’s not difficult to realize that the ability to sing or perform is yet another amazing tool in your toolbox. The caveat – practise in your bathroom first and get the blessings from your family members.
15. Bring in References and Statistics
Statistics can tell the starkest truths or the wildest lies, depending on how you use them. Bringing in statistics into your presentation lends objectivity and credibility to your propositions. In the context of presentations, using relevant statistics can help reinforce a case or point you’re making or drive home deeply poignant messages, especially when coupled with purposeful gesturing or movement.
It could be taking five slow steps on stage and saying in the course of your doing so and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 432 children have just lost their lives globally due to malaria and asking your audience to imagine, how many more would be lost in the course of a full-day conference on diseases. (I made up the statistic, by the way)
16. Use a Prop
Theatrical property, or otherwise commonly known as ‘props’, are objects used in productions to illustrate and further story lines. In the context of presentations, bringing in relevant props creates a visual element to your presentation and also anchors key points for your audience. Props can also be digital in nature as well like visuals, photographs or infographics.
You could be sharing a story about a deeply moving lesson that your father has taught you when you were a child on how “the ball is always in your court”. A good prop to have could be a crusty and weathered tennis ball, no less. If you have delivered your story impeccably, guess what your audience will be thinking the next time round they pick up a tennis ball?
17. Introduce Quotations
Bringing in quotations helps to create social proof for a point you’re making and at the same time, brings in an alternative fresh set of perspective and way of illustrating a point you want to bring forth. Most quotations are likewise meaningful, witty and punchy so you can weave in an additional shade of meaning when you use quotes appropriately.
“Words have incredible power. They can make people’s hearts soar, or they can make people’s hearts sore.” -Dr. Mardy Grothe
Using Rhetorical Devices
18. Alliteration, Anaphora and Onomatopoeia
There are three simple rhetorical devices I like to share – alliteration, anaphora, onomatopoeia. Don’t be turned off by the technical terms, as you would have probably heard them in speeches before. Rhetorical devices when used effectively are amazing persuasion and influence tools as well.
i) Alliteration – a stylistic literary device that involves the repetition of the same sound or stressed syllables. This adds a literary flair to your presentation and also makes what you say more memorable like how “careless cars cutting corners create confusion” because they tend to be “stickier” phonetically, than a plain series of words.
ii) Anaphora – a linguistic tool that involves repeating a word or phrase at the start of successive sentences with the effect of compounding the emotional appeal of an argument and also creates rhythm in your presentation. In President Obama’s Acceptance Speech 2012, he made use of anaphora frequently too –
“You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer…”
“You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer…”
“You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse…”
For a detailed analysis of the other speech techniques that President Obama used in his Acceptance speech, read the blog post I’ve written on his speech previously: 8 Powerful Speech Techniques that President Barack Obama used to “Wow” the World.
iii) Onomatopoeia – they are words that phonetically similar with the sound that it is trying to describe. The word “zip” is an example of onomatopoeia because it sounds like a zipper being pulled. Likewise for “bang”, “slurp”, “belch”, “quack”, “plop”. Okay, I’m sure you are hearing it now.
19. Use an Analogy
An analogy is a similarity between the like features or aspects of two different things, objects or concepts. It operates like that of a simile in that the similarities are being highlighted but an analogy tends to be more complex and extensive than a simile.
An example, “Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.” (From Writing English, The 25 Funniest Analogies (Collected by High School English Teachers))
Analogies paint highly visual and vivid images in the minds of your audience and hence, allows your audience to make strong inferences about the corresponding arguments.
20. Use a Metaphor
“A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two.” ~ Copyblogger on the differences between metaphors, similes and analogies
Metaphors are amazing persuasion tools because it distills complexity and abstraction into simple and intuitive concepts. Likewise with analogies, they are great in painting highly visual imageries in the mind of your audience and hence, convey more with less. In my opinion, metaphors are subtler than analogies and are brilliant to be used in both the written and spoken word.
An example, “All the world’s a stage.” ~ Shakespeare
And last but not least…
21. Be Interested
I leave this tip for the last because while it’s the most intuitive, it often isn’t practiced enough! Sure, you may be delivering the same corporate presentation for the 316th time but guess what? Someone in your audience is probably hearing it for the first time!
The plain truth is this – if you are not even interested enough to innovate and invent elements of your presentation to make it interesting to you, do not expect your presentation to be interesting to your audience.
What’s more magical is that your audience knows it. They know if you are feigning interest or are genuinely interested about the topic and care about whether they get it, or not. If you go on stage with a dreadful energy, it rubs off on your audience. Likewise if you go up on stage with lightness and exuberance, your audience leave your presentation feeling excited as well.
Remember, it’s all about the transference of energies and intention.
If you need some help in shaking off your public speaking nerves, read my post last month: 9 Essential Tips to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking.
If you need new ideas for something you are working on, check out the past classic: 25 Useful Brainstorming Techniques.
About the Author: Benjamin Loh is an Executive Speech Coach, TEDx Speaker and a Personal Development Gen-Y Blogger. As the youngest Associate Certified Coach (as credentialed by International Coach Federation) in Singapore and possibly, Asia-Pacific, he coaches senior executives, Directors and CEOs in speaking effectively and confidently.