There are few things that inspire more dread in the average worker than having to suffer through another boring presentation. “Oh, for crying out loud, we’ve got to sit for an hour while old so and so rattles on and shows the same slides he showed last time, only with different numbers this time? Argh!”
The truth is, there isn’t enough coffee in the world to make most presentations even tolerable, even if it is accompanied by donuts. Even if the donuts are from the local gourmet donut shop instead of the national chain.
And delivering such a presentation can be even more excruciating than sitting through one. If you’ve ever watched your audience fall asleep, or had the secretive use of their smartphones replaced by in-your-face texting and Facebook surfing, you know what we’re talking about.
If only there were some way to make boring old business presentations fun…
Well, you’re in luck, because not only is it possible to liven up your presentations and engage the attendees, we’re going to share some of the best tips we know for making presentations fun for you and your viewers.
Okay, so fix your coffee up the way you like it, grab a donut before all that’s left are the crullers, and we’ll get started!
To Begin With
Before we talk about how to open your presentation or any details about how to liven it up, let’s get something straight: no one, and we mean NO ONE, wants to sit through an hour-long presentation on ANYTHING. You’ve got to clear your mind before you start, and hopefully before you plan a presentation. There’s a great online course designed to help you create a concise presentation, which can help you focus and simplify. You’ll also find some very useful general presentation guidelines in Kasia Mikoluk’s excellent blog post on “Presentation Ideas.”
People, you’ll find, can engage in various engaging activities for that long, but they sure as heck can’t listen to you talk for anything like that length of time, even if your PowerPoint slides are really well done. Think back to college—did you enjoy the classes where the professor talked for an hour and fifteen minute straight? If you had enough coffee in your system, you might have stayed awake, but unless he or she was the greatest orator known to humankind, you probably nodded off pretty often.
The fact is, that listening to someone talk for that long is inherently boring.
So what should you do?
Keep your presentations short and sweet. If it’s only going to be you talking with some slides, even though that strategy is not usually the best choice, at least keep it under fifteen minutes. The good will you’ll generate among your co-workers will surprise you. If you’re planning some activities for the attendees to engage in, keep the meeting to no longer than forty minutes if you can.
Short equals fun.
A Few Words About Slides
Probably the best thing to do with your slides is to ditch them entirely. Try to work with concepts that are simple and self-contained enough that you can communicate what your audience needs to know by briefly talking about the subject. Usually, when the lights go down, people’s attention immediately begins to wander. Why? Because in the dark you can get away with not paying attention. No one can see you whipping out your phone to start texting your spouse about being stuck in another boring meeting.
But if you must use slides, try keeping attendees engaged with fewer words per slide. Make the presentation more about you and the ideas you are presenting than about the information on the slides. They’ll forget most of that information, anyway, but when it comes from you in a compelling way, they’ll remember it.
And using some creativity in slide-making never hurt anyone. Unless you work for Scrooge & Marley, Ltd., you can probably get away with some interesting or unusual fonts (but PLEASE never use Comic Sans, as it will give everyone flashbacks to junior high), and some surprising colors. Be bold with color. No one ever perked up when another black and white slide came up, but if you’re working with electric orange and lime green, they just might notice. Color lightens the mood.
And don’t be afraid to be funny in the content of the slides. If you were trying to illustrate the idea that your company shouldn’t let its reach exceed its grasp, you might find an image of a little boy trying to open his mouth wide enough to eat an entire ice cream cone at once, for example.
And even random images that have nothing to do with the presentation at hand can be great ways to add some levity and fun. If you have an image of yourself looking silly, throw it in where the audience expects some statistics, and say something like, “that’s what I get for letting my spouse help me with this!”
You’ll find more great ideas for how to enliven your slides in an online course called “Presentation Superpowers,” which calls to mind the idea that delivering your presentation dressed as your favorite superhero might just be the most fun you could inject into the proceedings. If Spider-Man tells you about sales projections, you just might listen a bit more, mightn’t you?
There are, indeed, a myriad of strategies for opening presentations in non-traditional ways, and most of them don’t even involve superhero suits. Think like a teacher for a moment. On the first day of school or of a new class, teachers use “icebreaker” activities to loosen everyone up, engage them, and get them interacting with each other. If the attendees don’t already know each other, the right icebreaker can get them all acquainted pretty quickly.
Have your audience get up and out of their chairs with the mission to find one or more other attendees and interact with them in a way specified by you. It could be a scavenger hunt, where you have them look for others who share a common interest with them, or with the mission to talk to at least three people and find out one hidden talent those three possess, or one thing that no one knows about them. The possibilities are endless.
You can also open with a game. A great one is an alphabet race. Set up several sheets of poster paper with the letters of the alphabet written vertically in easily-read marker on them. Divide up the attendees into as many teams as you have sheets of poster paper, and have them line up, with the ends of the line at least ten feet from the poster sheets. Each team gets one big marker, and then, each member of each team, in order, must race up to the poster and add a word that connects to the topic you’ll be discussing, one that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. So if your topic is “Increasing Profits,” then the first in line for each team must think of a word that connects to that topic that starts with “A,” and then the second on each team must think of one that starts with “B,” and so on. You’d be surprised how well this works to get people of any age involved, having fun, engaged, and thinking about the topic in question. It also is a great brainstorming activity and gives you the chance to use their input in your presentation. Win-win.
You can find out some more opening strategies and go deeper than it is possible to go here in an online class called “Presentation Skills: Eight Awesome Openings.”
What Can You Do?
Well, for one, you must remain standing. This is easy if you keep the meeting short. Stand up, walk around, get close to different groups of people, and take the opportunity to ask different people questions as you move around. If you don’t stop moving, they have to keep following you. It’s simple.
Without devolving into simply telling jokes, do your best to be funny, in a gently self-deprecating way that people can relate to. Show that you don’t take yourself seriously, and that while the business at hand is important, you understand that we all like to have a laugh. Think of yourself like an actor, but try to avoid being too much of a ham.
Try using props, if you can find any that work. If you’re talking about doing things “the old-fashioned way,” and you can find a big, old, leather-bound, dusty book, then pull it out and open it up, and blow some dust off of it. If the prop is based on a funny visual metaphor, that’s even better. Pull out a rubber chicken if you’re talking about fear. You get the idea.
Another thing you can do that will greatly endear you to your attendees is to take breaks, in particular if the meeting runs any longer than an hour. It shouldn’t, of course, but if it does, give the folks a break so they can recharge.
Just as with your opener, add some activities or games to the middle of your meeting if you can. Let the audience participate in any way possible. Solicit answers from them. Give out small or funny prizes for participating and being a good sport. Choose the most disengaged-looking people to talk to –they probably need to be jolted back to reality. Most importantly, when you ask questions, ask people about how they feel, what they think. Give the audience a chance to let their feelings be heard.
Try to keep the surprises coming. Keep people on their toes. Use music, or short video clips, or have everyone get up and dance for thirty seconds, or run in place. People need to be kept engaged and physical movement is the best way to do that.
Ending the Presentation
It’s always important to leave the attendees with something to think about, some fact they will ponder as they go about the rest of their daily business, or perhaps a question that they cannot answer right away. Think of the end of a presentation in the same way you might think of ending a persuasive essay, if that helps. If the audience is thinking about what you said an hour later, you did a great job. If they’re thinking about it the next day, you have achieved godlike presentation skills.
Giving presentations need not be tedious, just as attending them need not be. You must strive to be effective and get your information and ideas across, but that need not be done in a stuffy way that puts everyone to sleep. Before you plan your next presentation, take some time to prepare and make it effective and fun!