The goal of every business presentation is to engage the audience. Sure, you might want to entertain the masses a little, maybe communicate some information and show a few charts, and then prompt people with a call to action. Yet, if the crowd is not engaged with what you're saying and if they aren't listening intently, nothing will get through to them and no fancy visuals will make them want to act. They will tune you out.

Thankfully, there are a few key techniques to make sure you do engage and communicate effectively with a crowd. Barbara Seymour Giordano is a communication strategist for StoryWorksLA.com and she knows all about the best techniques to engage an audience. I first noticed her engaging style when watching one of her online presentations. Here are a few words of wisdom to help you turn a boring business presentation into a crowd-pleasing communication session that will make people want to listen.

1. Start with the script

Many presenters start by making slides and adding the text and graphics afterward. Giordano says this is a bad idea because it means you won't be tempted to use old slides and old ideas from previous presentations. It's better to do the messaging first, then start assembling the slides. "Instead of creating the lazy man's presentation, first complete your script or outline and then build your slides," she says. "Your script will tell you which images will best support your message, point, or story. This approach will also facilitate a story that's fluid and easy to follow from beginning to end."

2. Identify the pain point

Good communicators know how to focus on the pain point of a crowd, not just present the facts and figures. Giordano says it's tempting for knowledge workers, experts in their field, and technical gurus to showcase what they know about a topic. Take, for example, someone who is making a new pacemaker--you might want to dive into the specs for battery life and features. But the best way to engage the audience is to understand their perspective. "As the presenter, it's your job to be the bridge between the product and the individual you're presenting it to," says Giordano. "Step into the audience's shoes, and you'll most likely find that the three things they care about most (in the example of the pacemaker) are ease of use, patient satisfaction, and affordability. Identify what's most important to your audience, and you'll give a presentation that they'll be sure to want to learn more about."

3. Keep it conversational

Giordano practices the art of conversational presentations to engage the audience, creating a free-flowing talk that's not overly structured or rote. I watched a few of her presentations, and they don't even seem like presentations at all--they seem more like a friend chatting with you over lunch. The key is to drop the jargon and the formal attitude and make it casual. "One of the fastest ways to lose your audience is to speak in terms that they are vaguely familiar with or that they flat out don't understand," she says. "Making your talk more accessible is by no means 'dumbing it down,' but it's about creating a space that strives to include everyone in the audience, versus excluding them through jargon."

4. Tell a story

Since the dawn of time, the oral or written story has proven to be the best way to engage an audience. We love them. We pay attention. We track with the speaker. We engage. To sync up better with a crowd during your next slideshow, tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end and augment it with helpful visuals. "Stories help break up the sterile nature of data, facts, and figures and put that information into a real-life context for the audience to better relate to, personalize, and understand," says Giordano.

5. Slides matter

Engagement is easier when the audience has a visual reference point--that is, something else to look at during the talk. Use simple charts and graphs, but make them easy to understand because, according to Giordano, the crowd won't know whether they are supposed to listen to you or study the chart and figure it out on their own. (We can't do both at the same time.) "Visuals can help reinforce the details of your talk, so it's for that reason I encourage my speakers to use only high resolution (larger than 640 x 480) photos on either a plain black or white background," she says. "And when it comes to animation, the only effect needed is the one to appear and disappear."

6. Rehearse

Giordano says the best way to make sure an audience is listening is to practice your talk over and over again, so the crowd doesn't even notice your delivery or style, they only notice what you are presenting. "Giving a presentation is much like hosting your own late-night talk show," she says. "It's your job to stay on topic and on time, and the only way to do that is to stick to your script and practice. All of your rehearsals should be standing with your laptop in front of you. Having your slides in front of you will prevent you from feeling the need to turn around and look at the screen behind you on delivery day. Frequently, turning around zaps your leadership credibility because it makes you look like you're unsure of what you're going to say next."

7. Get there early

Once you have rehearsed the presentation, you have your script down pat and your stories memorized, and you know exactly what you want to communicate, make sure you get to the presentation early and then stay on message. "Do not change any slides, since by this point you should be ready to stand and deliver," says Giordano. "Examine the layout of the room and see where the slideshow projection begins and ends--at all costs, avoid stepping in front of the projected image. Doing so makes you look like a rookie instead of an expert or a leader."

Published on: Jan 12, 2015