Presentation tips and advice
October 28, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

What are the best ways to encourage audience participation and reception of potentially boring presentations? I have two presentations late November / early December and want to keep people alert and do a memorable presentation. What tricks did the best / most memorable presentations you have seen use?

I have two presentations to give in late November and early December, one as part of a group of four people on "Ethical Fashion in the UK" with an emphasis on child labour, and the other as part of a group of three people on the financial impacts of organisations going green. Both are around the 20 minute mark.

We have all the material we need, and are just organising into a suitable order, but need some interesting ways to encourage audience participation, and keep everyone interested (other than the usual "don't just read slides" / "don't mumble" / "don't put too much on slides" advice)

I've tried googling around, but have only found the usual "PowerPoint no-nos" and usual tips about talking clearly / not relying on PowerPoint too much. Any links to websites greatly received.

If it makes any difference, this is for a final year Business Management degree in the UK.
posted by philsi to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say bring a bucket of candy and give people rewards when they can answer a question correctly or say something insightful. Rewards like that always worked for me during presentations in uni.
posted by reenum at 2:02 PM on October 28, 2008

Use only cool, entertaining, relevant photography in your presentation. No text shall appear on-screen. And make sure the photos either appear to reinforce your point, or is in reaction to it. This works to focus everyone on what you are saying.

And use humor when appropriate.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2008

It helps if you're geniunely interested, passionate and knowledgeable about the spoken topic. I've always been most interested in speeches and lectures given by people who believe in what they're talking about.

No idea how to attain or channel this, but it's worth keeping in mind.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2008

Pecha Kucha.
posted by micawber at 3:04 PM on October 28, 2008

Do NOT read your notes or powerpoint slides to the audience. The more you can speak extemporaneously, the more engaging you will be. Practice until you can do this smoothly and naturally. Oh, and talk about something interesting, that always helps.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:29 PM on October 28, 2008

Perhaps you can try to use some interesting metaphors and analogies? These usually work because people are stunned out of their slumber when you start talking about pumpkins instead of child labour, and are therefore tuned in when you draw the metaphor that makes your point.

For example, I've got to give a presentation in a couple of weeks for the end of my honours year, and I've taken three key points and made up metaphors for beer, sex, and television. Even if they're asleep for the in depth science bit, I'm hoping they'll wake up when I talk about sex and at least hear the take home message.
posted by twirlypen at 3:33 PM on October 28, 2008

Include a couple of stories. It might sound lame, but people love a story.

I'm taking public speaking course at the moment and aside from other tips already offered above, including a narrative or two is the only help I can offer.

Try to find a story that relates a point you're trying to make. It would be great if it was a true story, but if you need to invent a scene and characters, go for it.

Good luck.
posted by YFiB at 4:18 PM on October 28, 2008

Tricks I've seen:
- "Good morning."
"What? I said: good morning." (This sounds totally obnoxious, but someone did it at a conference on Friday with such a smile that it woke up the crowd and got them smiling too.)

- "Let's have a show of hands. How many of you out there are from X? Okay, from Y?" These could just be easy categories to assess who is in your audience ("from nonprofits," "from businesses"). Better is to use this to make a point, like "from businesses that try to be ethical and green," "that succeed in being ethical and green;" "that are not only ethical and green, but are also profitable."

- "Turn to your neighbor and tell them _______ [eg, what your company's biggest challenge is in trying to go green]. You have one minute to tell your neighbor, then they have one minute to tell you. Ready, go. ... Okay, switch. ... Great. Hold those thoughts. I'm going to tell you waht I think are some of the biggest problems, and then you tell me what I've missed. ..... Okay, now I'm going to tell you some solutions to these. ... Okay, before we go, let's take two more minutes to see what we've learned. Remember the challenge you said before? Turn to your neighbor and tell them one concrete step you can do to begin overcoming the challenge you told them about in the beginning."
posted by salvia at 5:25 PM on October 28, 2008

i'm a huge fan of "the lessig method" for presentations. it is more labor intensive for the author, and it demands a more rehearsed script. but the impact can be spectacular.

i've watched several talks using this method, and once given one myself. in all cases, several audience members talked afterwards about how engaged they were.

here's lessig giving such a talk at TED in 2007.

here's another great example.

as i said, there is more upfront work for the author of a lessig method presentation. you're probably generating 5 to 6 times more slides than normal. that said, when i did one myself, i found the process very straightforward, and quite pleasant. after nailing down my script, finding the words or phrases to highlight (via words or pictures) was pretty fun, and the humor essentially wrote itself.
posted by bruceo at 5:31 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

To give a real good suggestion, I think it would helpful to see even more of the content rather than the general topic. However, I was going to provide an example or two as to how I used to get people to participate. If you need to see the actual slides and the problems I gave to students, feel free to memail I will share my slides.

Anyway, I would sometimes present a bit of background and a problem (eg, toxin in teh environment) and ask students to break into pairs/small group, and discuss a solution. Students were only given a few minutes. I would ask students to then volunteer their solutions and kept a tally or list of things that they suggested and addressed it.

Another way to do this that I found more enjoyable was to present a brief amt of material (eg, this is the pathway, feedback loop for hormone X) and then presented a disease, symptoms, and ask students to figure out what went wrong from what they just learned about the pathway. I would ask students this by using a multiple choice quesiton and you could then address why B or C was not the right answer if students selected that answer.

Some schools may have something called an "ARS" system - remote controls, recorder, and the results can be displayed on a screen. If you try asking multiple choice questions--the system projects the student responses (name not attached, just 80% answered A and 20% answered B); undergraduates seemed to get a kick out of responding and interacting with the remote control system. Believe it or not the same system is used at seminars for teaching materials to doctors, too (although I have primarily seen the system used to probe what doctors know before the talk, not at the end). Anyway, don't know if you can get access to a system like that -- but if you can, it's fun.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 6:07 PM on October 28, 2008

How to Speak, a nice video about presenting information in an engaging way, by MIT professor Patrick Winston, through the Bok Center for teaching at Harvard. It's a longish video but worth it. He illustrates each of his suggestions with the way he gives this lecture.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:40 PM on October 28, 2008

He also does a nice section on how to construct your audience-participation prompts so they are useful and serve the function you intend.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 PM on October 28, 2008

Oops, wrong link. Here's the correct link:
Patrick Winston on effective lectures
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:47 PM on October 28, 2008

Presentation Zen has a lot of very helpful material on making presentations that engage people rather than sending them to sleep.
posted by emilyw at 1:56 AM on October 29, 2008

I like to ask questions when introducing a topic. If it's a small group, which yours are, this is easy. You can ask people what they want to learn out of the presentation and then make sure to cover that topic or explain how they can get more info on that topic if it isn't going to be discussed. It also works well with definitions. (For example, what is child labour? ask everyone to give a definition and then give the one you are using or a highly respected one).

Just remember, anytime you do audience participation, it takes longer than just talking, but it's worth it. Secondly, it can sometimes take a looong time for people to respond. Don't cave! Be strong! It can sometimes take up to 17 seconds for someone to say something (time it, it's long) The silence will eventually embarrass someone enough to speak.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2008

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