The only 3 rules you will ever need for any presentation

keep-calm-follow-the-rulesIn a recent meeting a CEO confessed, ‘Numbers excite me but the last time I presented, I noticed everyone else’s eyes glazing over’.

Sadly quite often I see this in presentations, where the presenter is animated, excited even by their content and yet the audience is almost dying of boredom.  So these 3 rules will ensure your next presentation is a smashing success and your audience is as excited by your presentations as you are.

Rule 1: Connect with your audience

Rule2: See rule 1

Rule 3:There are no more rules.

We all buy into the ‘content is king’ mantra where presentations are concerned.  While this is still true the king has a usurper to the throne and it is connection.  What will make you as a presenter stand out is how you are able to get your audience to connect with your content.

To connect with your audience, you need to make it all about them.  How is what you are presenting relevant to them, to their world?  Humans are hard wired around giving anything that is relevant to them a 100% of our attention. I am not much of a car buff, but we are on the market for a new car and suddenly I have turned into a car aficionado, cars are at the moment deeply relevant to me.

I once saw a presenter presenting on the topic of nanotechnology to a largely non science based audience.  He started by saying ‘How many of you would like  to never iron again?  Everyone raised their hands.  And he said ‘Nanotechnology will help you do that’.  He had us hooked, and made nanotechnology immediately relevant to everyone in the room.

Relevance has to be around saving people time, money or making their work / life easier, making them look good.  It cannot and brace yourself for this harsh truth, be about something like ‘share holder value’, or ‘growing the business’ , or a greater good.  This might motivate & excite the CEO and the leadership team, but does not create any connection with anyone else. In fact it can alienate your audience.  Relevance has to be immediate and come from your audience’s world, not your world.

Content might be king but connecting via relevance is the holy grail of presentations.  As Lily Walters. a motivational speaker said “The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”  And nothing is received more eagerly than relevance. 


Any questions?

any-questionsIn the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” Ben Stein plays a dorkish economics teacher who always interrupts his lectures by asking  questions with the infamous words ‘Anyone? anyone? anyone?’  The camera pans to a sea of bored students.  Ben Stein proceeds to always answer his own questions! It’s both funny and a cautionary tale for how NOT to tackle questions when you are presenting.   So here are our top tips on posing questions as part of your presentation.

Steer clear of the infamous ‘Any questions’.

This is the worst way to ask for questions as it is too broad and causes people’s minds to spin into infinity. Instead ask for any comments, observations or questions.  This gives people some options.  Or you could be specific, and say ‘I’d be happy to take questions on X, Y or Z’.  We often present on Business Storytelling so our version of this is ‘We are happy to answer your questions on storytelling in leadership or storytelling in sales’. This gives your audience a starting point and also directs the flow of questions.

Black holes

The biggest fear that presenters have with asking for questions is that they may not know the answer.  Relax, it’s perfectly OK not to know the answer to everything, you are not Google!  When you don’t know the answer, what matters is how you handle the situation.  You can say ‘I don’t have an answer for you now, but happy to research this and get back to you’.   The worst thing you can do is fumble and spin your way through an answer.  Doing that can destroy the impact of your presentation.

Rabbit holes

Sometimes, people will ask an obscure question, or for something so specific that is relevant only to them. They want to disappear down rabbit holes and take you with them. You don’t have to answer every question you are asked!  In response we will often to say ‘That is the perfect question to solve over a glass of wine, so happy to chat with you after’, if it is irrelevant to the presentation you might say ‘I am not an expert of X, but I’m sure there is someone in the audience who is an expert and would be happy to chat with you after’.  Be tactful when handling this as you do not want to deter the rest of the audience from asking further questions.

Never end on any questions

Ending on ‘any question’s leaves the end of your presentation to chance.  The last questions might be a curly one, or not the final message you want to leave your audience with.  So always allot time for the Q&A and pull back by saying “I will take one more question’ before wrapping up.  Then make sure you end on message.

So do you have any comments, observations or questions  on this post?  I would be happy to hear how you have tackled questions when you present.

As Claude Levi – Strauss said “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.”   Use these strategies to get your audience asking the right questions.

3 Do or Die secrets for presenters


Your first do or die moment as a presenter is to get your audience’s attention. You have to do this in the first 30 seconds. Every presenter needs a hook at the start of their presentation, in order to grab attention in an attention-deficit world. This is your ‘have them at hello’ moment.

Once you get your audience’s attention, your next challenge is to keep your audience’s attention. This second do or die moment is where most presenters are challenged. One way of keeping your audience’s attention is to think of the key points you are making in terms of headlines, or bumper stickers.

Avoid fluffy or vague statements. For example, instead of saying change is inevitable but difficult and, unless we give it our best, change will not happen (yawn), and imagine the reaction if you had announced that 80% of change efforts are doomed to fail. Then back it up with an explanation and anchor this point with an example, a story or a question.

Keeping your audience’s attention is always a three-step dance. It begins with your bumper sticker statement followed by an explanation, which is then anchored with a case study, a story or humour. The bumper sticker and the anchoring helps the audience remember what you said, and keeps their attention in the room with you. Even if their attention wanders, and it will, both these tools help you reel back attention to the point you are making.

Your last do or die job is to give your audience something to do at the end of it all, a call to action. If your call to action is simply the desire to inform your audience then don’t waste their time, just send them an email!

A call to action could be varied depending on the purpose of your presentation and your audience. You need to be clear on what you want your audience to think, do or feel as a result of your presentation, so you issue a call to action at the end of your presentation. Most presenters fall down at this point and stop short of completing this third step. They leave their audience feeling ambiguous or unsure about what they have to do next.

But inspiring presenters understand the power that every presentation packs in its ending. Speaking after the massive manhunt that led to the capture of the second suspect in the recent Boston Marathon bombings, Barrack Obama ended his address by saying:

“We have the courage, resilience and spirit to overcome these challenges and to go forward as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

So how are you going to get and keep your audience’s attention, and what call to action will you issue at the end of your next presentation?

Presenting 101: Is there an elephant in the room?

When it comes to presenting to a group, there’s one major step that most presenters miss.

Many leaders will  spend an hour presenting a new strategy, explaining how exciting and challenging it’s going to be, when their audience is either tired because they’ve heard it all before or are concerned about how this is going to affect them. The one thing they are not is excited.  The presenter has failed to address the elephant in the room and missed the opportunity to connect to what the audience is really thinking or feeling.

Recently, I went to my daughter’s school for an information evening. Midway through the night, a “parenting expert” came on stage and every parent in the room rolled their eyes. Sensing everyone’s displeasure, the expert said, “You’re probably thinking ‘not another parenting expert, will I ever get home?’ The guilty audience burst out laughing. She then took it a step further saying, “As a parent myself, I’ve often felt this too. We all know that parenting is the toughest job on earth. It  was once said: ‘You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.’ So I’m here to share some tips with you that we, as parents, can all use on days when patience is in short supply. As parents of teenagers you will have lots of these days.”

Not only did she address the elephant, she invited it into the room with us and used it to her advantage to connect with her audience.

It takes courage to address the elephant in the room and as Ellen Wittlinger author & novelist said ‘ When there’s an elephant in the room you can’t just pretend it’s not there and just discuss the ants’.

Sadly this is a step most presenters miss.