Averting Presentation Accidents with an Audience

Strive to make your electronic presentations electric instead of boring and polished instead of an embarrassing accident with an audience.

Strive to make your electronic presentations electric instead of boring and polished instead of an embarrassing accident with an audience.

Electronic presentations can be electric – or numbingly boring. They also can be accidents with an audience.

Here are 10 tips on making your presentation electric instead of boring and avoiding cringe-worthy operator errors.

  1. Make an impression not a script. What flashes on the screen should make an impression with the audience, not serve as a teleprompter for the presenter. That means presentations should have presentation value. Use eye-fetching photography or illustrations or informative charts with a sparse amount of text to reinforce key points made by the presenter.
  2. Tell a story. Organize your presentation and your presentation slides around a narrative. Think like a storyteller. Have a beginning, a plot, a denouement and an ending. That kind of architecture is easier for audiences to comprehend than a linear march through data or chronology.
  3. Keep it simple. Don’t make your audience squint at your slides. The message of each slide should pop. That requires designing elegant slides. Simplicity is a central feature of elegance. Your slides should give audiences a visual exclamation mark for what a presenter is saying.
  4. Ditch the dark. Dark slide backgrounds are passé. More to the point, they are usually hard to see. White backgrounds afford more design flexibility, including the use of spot color that draws attention.
  5. Use good art. Inky, fuzzy or flat photographs look inky, fuzzy and flat on screen. Blah slides can make a negative impression with an audience and divert their attention from your message. Good art may be subjective, but art with eye appeal is pretty easy to judge. There are ample sources of quality photography and illustrations that are royalty free or affordable, so there is no excuse for offending the eye of an audience.
  6. Value negative space. Nothing can be something worthwhile on slides. You don’t need to fill every square inch of slide real estate with content. In fact, that’s counterproductive. Negative space guides the eye find what is important on a slide. Even when using a photograph to serve as a slide background, look for visuals that drive the eye to what you want your audience to focus on.
  7. Case your presentation venue. Bank robbers case banks. Presenters should case presentation venues. Will you speak from a podium or have a roaming mic? Will you activate your presentation directly on your laptop or with a remote? Are there electricity plug-ins nearby? Do you need an extension cord? Will your computer plug into with the venue’s projector? Is there a screen? Mundane stuff, but important pre-performance checks to avert embarrassing on-stage disasters.
  8. Pay attention to posture. The most scrutinized image on stage won’t be your electronic presentation slides; it will be you. People essentially listen to how you look. Your gestures, posture and inflections are tells for audiences. They sense confidence or uncertainty. They reveal mastery or fakery. They establish empathy or cause audience atrophy. The first audience for your presentation should be a full-length mirror to check how you stand and use your hands and arms. Tape record yourself and listen for annoying vocal ticks – such as “ummm”or “you know.” 
  9. Stage a dress rehearsal. Smart presenters are prepared presenters. They practice before they present in front of a crowd. They make sure their slides sync up with their key points and that transitions are smooth. They double-check slide transitions and animations. If they use video content, they triple-check that the video plays as intended.
  10. Practice. Practice. Practice. The best way to come across as a polished presenter is to practice. Presentations become electric when the presenter and his or her presentation are a force of nature. Words flow. Slides impress. When you are confident in your presentation, your body language conveys confidence. And your confidence moves audiences from watching a presentation to participating in an intimate conversation.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.