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Meiss Education Institute

Adding Punch, Power and Pizzazz to Your Presentations: Energizing Your Content
By Rich Meiss

Designing & Delivering Powerful Presentations Series: I

Poor presenters read their presentations, average presenters use Power Point slides and cover their material that way, but truly great presenters know deliver their presentations with power and punch – to appeal to the emotions.

Today’s audiences demand an energized presentation.  We live in a wired generation!  In the first age of television, programs like The Honeymooners were filmed with one camera, in black and white.  By the 1960’s, Bonanza was filmed with six cameras, in living color.  Today, programs on MTV change camera angles every 1-2 seconds – the viewer is seeing a new frame constantly!  And this wired generation is increasingly who we are presenting to.

Another way to emphasize this is by sharing this illustration:  In the early days of television, families would choose one channel, leave it on the whole evening, and watch everything on that channel.  Today we grab our remote controls, flip through dozens of channels (maybe even hundreds), look at one another and say, “There’s nothing on!”  So we then drive to the video store, walk through hundreds of video titles, and say, “There’s nothing I want to watch!”  Fellow presenters, those same people are the participants in our presentations!  Our challenge is truly great!

7 Ways to Add Impact to Your Presentations (plus a bonus)

So how do we spice up our presentations and keep the attention of today’s truly demanding audience?  The first step, of course, is to make sure we know the needs of our audience and plan our presentation to meet their needs.  And of course, we want to make sure that we have studied our content and prepared well so that we can deliver it confidently.  In addition to these tips, here are some additional ideas that will add spice to your presentation.

  1. Use Visuals and Color – Research at the University of Minnesota and also at the Wharton School of Business shows that participants are more likely to retain material and more likely to take action on ideas when color is used.  Used properly, color adds flair to the visuals used in a presentation.  Use two or three colors per visual – maximum.  All of us have seen visuals with so much color that the eye doesn’t know where to focus.  And use complimentary colors – those that are on opposite sides of the color wheel are usually good compliments to each other.  When using Power Point, the best advice we’ve found is to use a dark background color with light letters, such as a pale yellow or white.  Color can be used effectively to:  highlight certain words, point out important sections, identify or emphasize key points, and improve the read-ability of the visual.

  2. Add Some Humor – Bill Gove, one of the co-founders of the National Speaker’s Association, was once asked in a speaker’s forum:  “Should you use humor in your presentations?”  His response was classic, and probably very true!  “Only if you want to get paid well,” Bill said.  Humor can add spice to any presentation.  But it can also work against you, so be careful.  We distinguish between humor and jokes.  A joke is usually told at the expense of a person, or a group of people (blondes, lawyers, etc.)  Jokes can easily offend.  So we recommend the use of humor, not jokes.  Humor is often poking gentle fun at oneself, or at the situation.  Whatever you do, make sure that your use of humor will add to the enjoyment of the presentation rather than create any bad feelings on the part of the participants.  The best rule of thumb for humor is this:  “When in doubt, leave it out!”

  3. Make a Promise – This is a great way to open a presentation, and it can also be used during the presentation itself.  A promise grabs people’s attention.  It is a way of answering the WII-FM question for participants – “What’s In It – For Me”.  If I am doing a presentation on the merits of using an outlining technique called Mind Mapping, for example, I often say at the end:  “Presenters, my promise to you is that IF you will master and use this technique in creating your presentation outlines, you WILL reduce your preparation time by as much as 50%.”  Because I have taught this method for over 15 years, I can confidently make this promise without any fear of misguiding participants.  Of course, it is important that if you make a promise, you are able to keep it.

  4. Ask a Question – This is a common technique used by teachers and instructors to focus the students on the message.  When a question is asked the student pays attention, because the teacher may call on him/her to answer the question.  And because all of us have had this experience in a school classroom, the technique of asking a question while making a presentation also works well.  This technique may work in several ways:  
    1) You may ask a question to which you expect an answer, either through a verbal response or through a show of hands, and 2) You may ask a rhetorical question that gets participants thinking about their answer without giving an actual response.  In either case, the technique is usually a good way to re-focus the audience on your content.

  5. Share a Story or Experience – Most participants appreciate a good story, or like to hear about the experiences of the presenter, AS LONG AS THIS IS NOT OVER-USED.  No one likes to hear a constant barrage of “I this” and “Me that”, so be careful to use stories and experiences only when they add strong support to your presentation. 

A great way to tell a story is to put the audience member in the story.  “Imagine that you were starting a business, and ….”  Then help the participants feel that they are a part of the story, maybe even asking them for their input into how they would handle a situation.  In general, these tips will help make your stories powerful and professional:  Avoid too many “I’s” and Me’s”, make the story personal, keep it as short as possible while still making your point, and build in some emotion or punch to the story.

  1. Use Quotes or Statistics – In an age where trivia has become so popular, many people appreciate a good statistic.  In the lower left hand corner of each section of the USA Today newspaper, there is usually some interesting trivia or statistics.  Trivial Pursuit, the game, has been a big seller.  And a book by Russell Ash, called The Top Ten of Everything, which includes hundreds of top ten lists, has been a big seller over the last ten years or so.  So find a way to build some trivia, or statistics, into your presentation.  And rather than just telling your audience, maybe let them guess the answer.  “Turn to a partner and spend the next 30 seconds coming up with your answer to this question:  ‘What is the average price in U.S. dollars of one ticket (face value) to the opening or closing ceremony of either the summer or winter Olympic games?”  This method gets them engaged in the process, and by formulating their answer before hearing the correct answer, they will be more likely to remember the statistic when you share it.  Most people are astounded to learn that one ticket to an Olympic opening or closing costs, on average, $850.

And many participants enjoy quotes, too.  These can be used to get people to laugh, to get them thinking more deeply about a topic, or to just focus their brain on the subject of the presentation.  Mae West’s candid observation might be a fun way to introduce a topic on relationships, for example:  “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men that counts.”  Or to make a serious point about living in the information age, I’ve often used Alvin Toffler’s quote, written over 25 years ago:  “The illiterate of the future will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.”  Isn’t that a perfect description of the world we live in today, with so much information at our finger tips?  Today’s illiterate person is the one who does not know ‘how’ to learn.   Quote can add impact to your presentation.

  1.  Add Some Magic – Most people are fascinated by magicians!  We pay big bucks to go to magic shows, and are wowed by the show the magician puts on.  And while most of us will never be professional magicians, we CAN learn how to do some basic magic.  In my own presentations on strategic planning or goal setting, for example, I start with a card “trick” that tends to get the audience in that WOW mode.  Through a series of  them to choose the one card I’ve pre-selected and hid in the front of the room.  When the final person chooses the Queen of Hearts, I pull the card from its hidden spot and wow the audience.  After a few moments of disbelief, I ask them how I was able to get to their card.  Eventually someone comes up with the idea that I had chosen that card in advance – that I had a goal.  In other words, I had “begun with the end in mind”.  I then use that idea to segue into the topic of goal setting.  I have also learned a few magic tricks with rubber bands and other common items – things that take little time, get the audience going WOW, and allow me to make a key point I want to emphasize in my presentation.  Go to your local magic store to find some simple magic tricks you might master, or look for a good book that TEACHES YOU how to do some simple magic.

Bonus:  Use a Game -  In our work with trainers, we call games ILA’s – Interactive Learning Activities, as most corporate executives would not be too understanding of our playing “games” in a training event.  But used properly, many games can be useful in helping audience members learn some information that might be useful to them.  The key to using a game appropriately in a presentation or training session is to make sure to process it.  To do that, we suggest following this ERA formula:  First, do the Exercise (or the game), next, examine the Reason for doing the activity, and finally, think of the Application of this activity to the topic being discussed.  When attempting to get people outside of their comfort zone, for example,  I like to have them stand, hold their left arm out at shoulder level with their index finger pointed out, and then turn as far to the left as they comfortably can, noting a “point” in the room where there finger is now pointed.  Then I have them do a few stretching exercises and repeat the exercise.  Participants are usually amazed at how much farther they can go beyond their original “point” in the room.  (Try it right now.)   I then have participants talk about the reason for the exercise, what they learned from it, and how they can apply it to “stretching” outside their comfort zone as they hear about today’s topic.  In certain situations, with the right size audience, and with enough space in the room, an “interactive learning activity” can add impact to your presentation.

Use these eight ideas to make a difference in the presentations you make!


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