Ten ways to turn your next presentation into a conversation

By Maurice De Castro

Remember all of those years you sat quietly at school and university listening to someone talk to you from the front of the room? Now you’re sitting through a presentation at work and it seems like you never left the classroom although this time it feels worse, much worse.

You sigh in despair as you hear the presenter say, ‘You probably won’t be able to read this slide so I’ll read it for you’.

You know that foreboding feeling that you are about to lose an hour of your life that you will never get back in the fearful belief that what you are hearing could be shared in half the time. Add to that the fact that much of what you hear isn’t relevant to you personally and it’s no wonder business presentations get such bad press today.

An exaggeration, you tell me?

Professionals are far more discerning, far less patient and are a great deal less tolerant today. They want to have meaningful conversations rather than one way presentations. A well-crafted conversation is far more dynamic, engaging and sustainable than just being spoken at.

So how do you do it?

1. Make it about them, not you

Travelling on the London Underground recently I met a former colleague I hadn’t seen in at least several years.

After her talking non-stop for the full 20 minutes of our journey she leapt off the train at her stop shouting, ‘It was great to catch up, I’m glad to hear you are doing so well’.

I was left speechless as I had been for the duration of our conversation. How on earth did she know I was doing well when she hadn’t allowed me to utter one word?

No one likes to be ‘talked at’ so let your audience speak too, ask them questions and let them answer.

2. What’s on your mind?

Your audience don’t want you to drown them in facts and data. Whilst they will want you to prove your point they also want your expert opinion. The best presenters create a conversation by expressing their view and opinions on the topic at hand and they look to their audience to do the same.

A conversation begins by you expressing your views and opinions whilst being completely open to others sharing there’s too.

3. Engage, don’t read

Unless you’re reading a bedtime story to your children with the intent of helping them to drift off to sleep quickly don’t ever read to your audience.

By all means have written headlines to remind you of your key points so you don’t miss anything or share some stunning slides but remember this; a conversation never involves reading.

Speakers who know how to engage and audience start with the basics, they find common ground and they speak to their audience as they speak to their friends.

4. Everything is energy

Most business presenters would do well to craft and deliver their conversation in the knowledge that everything in the universe is energy; no exceptions.

If you extend to that premise the science that energy and enthusiasm are infectious then those two elements must be at the heart of any great conversation.

If your presentation lacks energy then your message will fall on deaf ears.

5. Look at them

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they didn’t look at you as they spoke?

I don’t believe it’s possible to have an effective conversation without letting your audience see your passion, sincerity and belief in what you are saying through your eyes. There is no greater way of you helping them to feel that you are with them in the room in that moment than through giving them the gift of eye contact.

6. Tell them stories

Whether we are aware of it or not, each one of us tells stories all day long in one form or another. It’s how we listen, learn and engage. Despite this when it comes to presenting in business many professionals ditch the stories and dump information.

I’ve often said ‘A presentation without stories is a lecture’, and in my experience no one really enjoys being lectured to. Tell your audience stories, use anecdotes metaphors, analogies and examples help them to see and feel what you’re saying, not just hear the words.

7. Don’t be lazy

‘At the end of the day, you can count on us to go the extra mile to, think outside the box and give you a 120%.’

If that doesn’t do it for you how about these:

‘We don’t have the bandwidth’

‘Low hanging fruit’

‘Close of play’

‘Work smarter not harder’

‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’

Of course I could go on and on but I think you get my drift. Such use of clichés and jargon is nothing more than lazy thinking and your audience deserves more.

Make the effort to tell it as it is and have a conversation without the platitudes.

8. Give them space to think

Remember my former colleague I referred to in tip 1?

She allowed me no opportunity at all to either take in what it was she was saying or time to think about what I had heard or wanted to say myself. Instead I was the victim of a verbal barrage of what she wanted to tell me, nothing more.

To give your audience space means slowing down a little and taking time out every now and then to pause for a brief moment.

Try it for yourself the next time you present and see for yourself the impact it has on your listeners.

9. Be conversational, not corporate

Many business presenters believe that being professional means that when it comes to presenting you have to be deadly serious all of the time. You can deliver a serious message without leaving your personality in your desk drawer.

We often find that the moment someone stands to speak they lose their sense of self and become a form of corporate spokesperson that no one recognises.

To have a conversation you have to adopt a conversational tone and that only comes when you see yourself as having a conversation rather than giving a formal presentation.

10. You’re not Obama or Jobs

A conversation really doesn’t work if you try to be someone you’re not. The real key to being a highly effective speaker and engaging an audience is by letting them see the real you.

However inexperienced you may be as a speaker we each have our own personal strengths and gifts that endear us to our listeners. Our job is to find out what they are and to use them to our advantage.

This post originally appeared on the Mindful Presenter blog.