How to engage your audience when you regularly give technical presentations?
Do you worry about whether your content is going to bore the audience?
The reason that so many technical presentations are boring is because the presenter believes it’s all about information and facts, but information and facts are only a small part of the story.
A presentation is never just about information because these days of information overwhelm, we can get information from anywhere. When you give a presentation, it’s YOU the audience wants to see and hear. More specifically, the audience wants to hear your PERSPECTIVE on the topic and how that perspective can benefit their lives.
In order to avoid giving a boring technical presentation full of data, facts and figures think about your presentation objective and content with the three ‘I’s –
Of course, you’re still going to talk about facts and figures but you need to frame them within the three ‘I’s in this way:
- Give information by presenting your facts
- Provide insights by making connections between your facts
- Inspire by evoking feelings about your facts
What are the best ways to give information, provide insight and inspire? Below are some things to think about.
Information – Facts
Only include the information this particular audience NEEDS to know to meet your objective.
Have one main point only – don’t digress. If you are very specialist in your field it can sometimes be difficult to stick to your main point as you know so much and there is so much you could tell your audience, Don’t fall into this trap.
KISS as much as possible! KISS is an acronym for ‘Keep It Short & Simple’. Don’t use jargon (technical vocabulary) unless you are sure every member of the audience understands it.
Always simplify charts and diagrams and if you can, as you speak build them up gradually so your audience can follow your argument better.
Most importantly, avoid a ‘data dump’ onto your slides. The slides you use shouldn’t be about data, they should be about the MEANING of that data.
Insights – Connecting the facts
When you give knowledge via the factual information in your presentation you should do it in a way that allows your listeners to have their own insights. Give the audience space to connect the different bits of information you’re giving them so they create meaning for their own situation. Essentially, everybody is asking themselves the question, ‘What’s In It for Me?’ ‘Why should I care?’ How can I apply this information to my own situation?’
Start off your presentation by asking ‘Why?’ Give your audience a reason to listen.
Add meaning to your messages by being specific rather than general. Instead of saying “Health care is one of the biggest industries in the USA”. Say “If the American health care system were its own country, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world”
Describe the BENEFITS of your information or product, not just the features. Features or technical characteristics alone mean little to most people. After describing a feature use the words “which means that…” to describe the impact the feature has on your audience’s life or work.
Think of data as a mould of clay. The same data needs moulding into a different shape for different audiences. Each shape of clay represents a practical outcome that your audience is looking for from your data.
Use metaphors and analogies to give meaning. Numbers often don’t mean anything by themselves so we have to put them into perspective. For example, if a gigabyte of memory in a card means nothing to you, 12 gigabytes still means nothing, But if you say that 12 gigabytes are enough memory to listen to music all the way to the moon and back, now it means something. (From the video ‘Present like Steve Jobs’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-ntLGOyHw4)
Inspiration – Feeling about the facts
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.
Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014
The memory of how you made an audience feel lasts much longer than any memory they may have about your data.
A large part of turning a technical presentation into an engaging talk is about evoking emotion from your audience. Think about how you want your audience to feel at each stage of your presentation and take this into consideration when you plan your content.
Know when to be persuasive not just informative, especially with an audience of company executives. Don’t expect a non-technical audience to draw conclusions from a load of data.
Focus on connecting with the audience, not impressing them with all your knowledge. The audience doesn’t care how much you know, they only care about what you can do for them.
Use personal anecdotes to illustrate different points. People are hardwired to enjoy and remember stories and personal stories are best because as you tell your stories you’re revealing a part of your experience and personality.
Be energetic, interested and enthusiastic – it’s a performance, but a performance where you are a bigger version of your authentic self. Emotions are contagious. If you’re not interested in your topic, your audience won’t be.
Use the word ‘you’ as much as possible because you’re having a conversation with the audience. It’s about them, not about you.
Use pauses before and after an important point to create suspense and emphasis. This will also show the audience you are in control of your messages and how you want those messages to be communicated.
End on a high with a conclusion that follows logically from a summary of the information you’ve just given. Your conclusion should be linked to your presentation objective. The success of your presentation is measured by whether the audience goes away thinking, feeling or doing what you want them to.
End with a call to action. In the business world, it’s about taking action and getting results. People want to take action that will improve something in their lives and using technology will usually get that improvement. So tell your audience exactly what they should do with the information you’ve given them in your presentation.
At the end of the day, if you want to engage your audience, you have to make your presentation about them. Thinking in terms of Information/Insights/Inspiration is a great way to make sure you focus totally on your audience and to ensure your talk engages rather than bores.