We know that when people deliver presentations, it’s usually for a purpose. Everything from a presenting a resumé in a job interview, to pitching an idea to investors for a startup, to door-to-door marketing… our world is one where success starts with a presentation.
While natural presentation skills are often viewed as a gift or art form, a Harvard Business Review study revealed that a properly structured story, more so than its actual content, is what makes an audience feel that sense of familiarity and satisfaction with a presentation. The study also shows that positive factors in a story (such resolutions to problems, a happy ending, etc.) cause the release of oxytocin, the hormone that allows us to feel good.
And feeling good about a presentation is crucial if the presenter’s objective is to wow the audience.
We’ve developed something of a list of the best creative presentation ideas that will not only help the audience feel good but will establish trust and rapport with the presenter. Because, for the most part, presentations aren’t about making someone feel good; they’re about getting that job, getting the investment dollars, signing a new client, and so on.
Three Angles for Delivering a Great Presentation
The audience gets three cues during a presentation. Outside of the content itself, the presenter’s appearance, his or her vocal cues, and the presentation’s visual elements are the three things a presenter can control.
These three things help to build trust and rapport with the audience by instilling a sense of knowledge, professionalism, polish, and familiarity. We give the three best ideas for each to help inspire that next great presentation.
The first thing an audience sees at a presentation is either a welcome slide or the presenter. In most cases, the slide offers little entertainment value, so the presenter becomes the focal point. What the presenter has to work with includes body language, eye contact, and expressive gestures.
According to Psychology Today, “if we don’t trust the speaker, we’re not going to listen to their words." A presenter’s body language, posture, and facial expression all work to the advantage or disadvantage of the presentation.
In Barry Davenport’s book, Confidence Hacks, he talks about ninety-nine things people can do to boost confidence. Many of them center around body language, including presentation-relevant tips like smiling, maintaining a straight posture, and dressing for success.
On the Hello Beautiful blog, they list five reasons why eye contact is important in communication. Their fifth reason says it all: “Eye contact can be the difference between seeming aloof and a new friendship.”
Since building trust is crucial during a presentation, maintaining eye contact with the audience not only demonstrates engagement and interest on the presenter’s part, but it keeps the audience focused on the message.
Animated and Expressive Body Language
One of the most famous public speakers of our time, Tony Robbins, demonstrates just how much this concept of animation and expression can add to an in-person presentation. In his Ted Talks presentation, Why We Do What We Do, Tony is not only always moving around on the small stage, but he reinforces his message with hand and facial motions.
Something else Tony and all great speakers do well: they use animation and expression in the second area that presenters can control: Vocal Cues
Regardless of the format of a presentation, how the message gets delivered vocally might play an even more important role than anything else. Tony Robbins' presentation demonstrates this rather well. The best ideas for vocal cues center around speed, clarity, and brevity.
We know, from all types of studies, that varying the speed of speech doesn’t necessarily impact speaker credibility. This old study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that instead of speaker credibility, audience comprehension could be impacted when the speed of speech is increased. That's why a lot of presentation coaches suggest speaking slowly, but that's not always the best practice.
A common technique used by the best presenters includes slowing down or stopping when presenting which allows key points to “sink in.” On the other end of the speedometer, presenters will also speed up when attempting to increase the audience’s cortisone (stress) levels. Speech speed is used to enhance emotional response, highlight key points, and ultimately to maintain engagement.
Voice artists, from radio DJ’s to telemarketers to audiobook artists, understand the value of clarity. When delivering a presentation, slang and conversational language need to evolve and become clearer. Presenters can achieve vocal clarity through proper speech modulation, making the "o" sounds, grinning back the long "a" sounds, and so on. It may look silly to the presenter when she is watching herself in front of a mirror, but an audience is unlikely to notice and will appreciate the clarity!
A typical advertisement on television or radio runs for thirty seconds or less. While most presentations benefit from greater time, limiting the message of a presentation to the shortest time possible is a great idea.
But brevity isn’t limited to a presentation’s run time. Rather, consider word usage and sentence length. In literature, authors choose between run-on sentences and sentence fragments depending on the thrust of the message. While longer sentences allow for flowery language and long descriptions, they are often boring, and quick readers tend to skim past them. However, shorter sentences keep an audience’s curiosity piqued. The same strategy works with a presentation.
In the interest of brevity, presenters have the benefit of the visual cues to reinforce key points. These visual cues are provided by the slide deck.
When developing slides for a presentation, presenters need to shift gears. Design theories are not easily understood by everyone, yet a presentation’s visual elements have a consequential impact on an audience’s engagement levels.
Luckily, here's an Essential Design Inspiration resource that offers an excellent and extensive overview of how visual elements can work. But the three best ideas for a presentation’s visual elements center around color, font, and imagery.
The colors used in a presentation will affect the way the audience feels while that slide is visible. Color psychology suggests that the color orange is an energetic one that spurs feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and warmth, while blue invites feelings of calmness, serenity, and even sadness.
Tools like Abobe’s Kuler color wheel make working with color schemes a little simpler, but services like Slidebean take the guesswork out entirely.
In the world of presentations, words are not just words. They are a graphical element meant to capture the attention of an audience. Studies show that serif fonts (think of typewriter fonts like Courier, Times New Roman, Garamond) are more difficult to read. That could be why resumé experts encourage job hunters to use sans serif fonts like Arial, Cambria, Verdana which are much easier to read and process quickly.
Likewise, with a presentation, the aim should always be simplicity. If a slide must have readable content, using a sans serif font increases the chance that it will be read. Slidebean makes choosing fonts and size simple. Doing it on your own takes a bit of practice to ensure proper size and readability.
To truly capture an audience’s attention, choose imagery (and everything we’ve discussed here) wisely. Here are some of the more common imagery points to consider:
Infographics - a great way to capture a website visitor’s attention, but depending on the textual content, they may not work well for large-group presentations.
Icons and bullet points are a must in group presentations as well as resumes, pitch decks, etc.
Photos (the proper ones that tie into the presentation content, narrative structure, as well as visual cues) can captivate audiences.
Stock photos must be avoided. For help with non-stock photos, check out DeathToTheStockPhoto.
Although it might seem that a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design is a prerequisite to designing a decent presentation, that’s just not the case.
Ever notice how a lot of presenters show up well in advance of their presentation? That’s because it’s common to practice the presentation in an empty lecture hall. We strongly recommend practicing ahead of a presentation, not only to gain familiarity with the room (in a large-group presentation) or environment (in a small-group presentation or interview) but to tweak things like visual focus, speech volume, movement, and expression. It also gives presenters a chance to review the presentation slides and make some last minute changes.
Long before the presentation date, we recommend video recording the entire presentation in its early iteration. Pay attention to things like voice clarity, expressions of nervousness, how the visual elements align with the content and body language. Taking note of the little gestures and imperfections can only be done through reviewing the presentation itself—and doing it ahead of time allows the finalized presentation to run a lot smoother.
A presentation's success is determined primarily by its non-content cues. Controlling those things and paying attention to the ideas presented here gives the presenter a greater chance of success.