When Presenting, Warm Up and Be the Unexpected


steve-jobs-keynote-presentationHow many times have you walked into a room, mentally preparing yourself for what is sure to be a few painful hours of trying to process the data being shown on the overhead? You catch the presenter setting up and note that there are 147 incredibly detailed slides in today’s presentation. You feel sleepy already and start to calculate how long the batteries will last on your laptop, tablet, and smart phone. When the presenter gets started, he stands behind the podium and you just know that for the next however-many-hours, he’s not coming out from behind it. An invisible wall exists between him and his audience.

On the other hand, how many times have you walked into a situation like that and ended up completely and pleasantly surprised?

People assume that data presentation is going to be dry. People assume that data presentation must be dry. After all, these are statisticians and analysts, not entertainers.

Be personable.

The truth is that data does have the potential to be dry, which is all the more reason why you, the presenter, cannot be. You need to remember to take deep breaths, slow down, smile, and be friendly. Be prepared ahead of time to discuss how the data is relevant to the audience and how it applies to real life. Being personable means relating and being relatable, so work hard to do this for your audience.

Keep in mind that not everyone is born a talented public speaker. Sure, some people are great at it. Others are okay. Some are terrified and terrible. You’ll never get better at anything without practice, so take advantage of the opportunities afforded to you. Practice, practice, practice, and you’ll see your presenting persona develop over time.

Remember: if you don’t sound interested in your data, you can’t expect your audience to be interested in it either.

Get out from behind the podium!

One of the biggest problems lies with that invisible wall that exists between the speaker and the audience. That wall tacitly says, “I am over here and you are over there. We will never cross sides.” It’s not surprising that not a ton of interaction comes out of such situations.

If you want to be an effective data presenter, the first thing to do is to knock down that wall. Get yourself ready to present beforehand, and as your audience starts to filter in, walk around and chat with them. You can talk to them about data or something completely different and more personal, but the point is to talk to as many people as you can, each for two or three minutes. The point is that, when you do this, you’re warming up to them and allowing them to warm up to you. They get to see that you have a personality and it eases their concerns about the potential for a dry presentation.

During the presentation, get yourself out from behind the podium and walk around the room as much as possible. If you can work any of your earlier conversations into your presentation, that can help to keep the audience’s interest piqued (just make sure you don’t call anyone out or put him on the spot).

The less time you spend behind the podium, the more time you spend establishing yourself as “one of us.”

Use fewer than 20 slides

If you really want to do something unexpected for your audience, drastically reduce the number of slides that you might normally use and see if you can get the total below 20. Even better if you can use eye-catching images instead of the same old variation on the same deck that everyone else is using.

This helps your audience to see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But what’s more, it helps you to identify the most important data and target it. Once it’s targeted, you’re also prevented from being overly wordy because, as we’ve discussed in previous posts, you should never put paragraphs on your slides.

What do you do with fewer slides?

You open up a conversation. Invite questions and comments. Provide feedback as you go along. Instead of a one-sided presentation in which you rely on the slides to get you through, you now have a two-sided conversation that helps people to understand and apply your data with greater ease than simply watching slides go by while listening to you talk. Conversation means engagement, and engagement means processing and learning.

And speaking of that, as the presenter, when you’re engaging people in a discussion this way and relying very minimally on the slides, you’re able to gauge how well they’re comprehending the data. This means you’re able to make sure they know what they’re talking about when they leave the presentation. If you never talk to your audience, you don’t know if they understand the data, which means you don’t know if it’s going to be butchered somewhere.

This is a refreshing change of pace from the typical slide-click-slide-click-slide-click. In this instance, slides are really only used as an outline and some suggestions for steering the conversation.

Want to really throw your audience for a loop? Test your creativity by seeing if you can get through a whole presentation without using slides at all.

An Example:

Check out the SlideShare presentation below. If you want to go for the unexpected, this is a pretty good example of where to start. Notice that…

  • The uses lots of images as opposed to text.
  • The text that he does use is short and to the point, allowing for further conversation among the audience.
  • There are only 18 slides total. Only the most essential data is included.

While making your presentation stand out will ultimately come down to how well you can “work the room” and engage your audience in conversation, a slide presentation like this is a good framework for that.

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How do you prevent your data presentations from being dry? How do you incorporate unexpected elements for your audience? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! 

About the author: Nick Robinson is a lover of all things analytics and digital. He has a strong background in web development, marketing, and entrepreneurship. His professional experience with the web dates back to 1997 when he coded his first Geocities website. When not burning the midnight oil, you can find him on the lacrosse field, playing or coaching. The best places to interact with him are Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn.