It's finals week at Fordham University, which means I have been sitting through dozens of presentations by smart grad students. It's one of the rare times when I get to watch many presentations in succession. It's a bit like a short film festival. I get to compare one after the other, watching to see the quality of the message and the delivery.

There are varying amounts of effort, creativity, and, of course, PowerPoint skills in every session. Some stand out more than others. I have noticed there are some common elements in the most powerful of the presentations. Here are the elements that seem to impact the audience best.

1. Stories

Facts are great in a presentation, but what makes them meaningful is their context in an anecdote or story. The best presenters find an empathetic connection with the audience. They provide a protagonist and get the audience rooting for accomplishment. Find the hero in your presentation (even if it's you) and take your audience on an exciting journey.

2. Statistics

People love numbers, especially when they are surprising. In my own presentation on media this week, I quoted the new Nielsen ratings. Most of the Millennials around me talk about how TV is giving way to streaming. I shared the fact that it turns out the average American is watching four hours of live broadcast TV per day, compared with only 11 minutes of daily streaming, and you should have seen their jaws drop. Find the stat that will shock your audience and set them on the edge of their seat.

3. Humor

You don't have to be a stand up comedian to keep your audience engaged, but you'll make more of an impact if you can make them smile or chuckle once in a while. Most presentations involve some aspect of the human condition that deserves poking a little fun. Find the irony or humorous contradiction in your material and exploit it for laughs, cheap or otherwise. Even the lowly pun can be a-muse.

4. Visuals

So many PowerPoint slides are still text heavy. If you have that much text, just give your audience a white paper. Let people use their eyes for something other than reading. Use some color, and emotion provoking imagery. You don't have to put up the Museum of Modern Art collection, but it's easy to use a little creativity to help people see what you are talking about.

5. Professionalism

I am sad to say that the biggest flaws in most presentations come from the speakers. I have seen and heard plenty of mumbling, monotone people stand behind the podium and read the slides attempting to put me to sleep. If you are going to present anything, stand up straight, memorize your material, and practice, practice, practice. None of you want to be bored by someone who puts in little effort to be interesting on stage, so don't be that person.

6. Brevity

The true art in creating a powerful presentation is in the editing. Of course you have done all this research, and I am sure each and every fact is important. But it's probably not necessary to make the point. Pick your points carefully. Make them clear and succinct. And then do like Coco Chanel said about fashion, and before you go out, take one thing off.

Published on: Dec 16, 2014
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