5 tips for a killer presentation (that won’t bore your audience)

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Poll Everywhere welcomes Kat Boogaard as the guest author of this post.

You need to give a presentation. And, ideally, you need to do so without boring your audience to tears.

That can be more challenging than you think. One study indicates that a whopping 91% of professionals admit to daydreaming during presentations. Even more cringe-worthy? 39% of people confess to actually falling asleep.

Other research shares that 41% of U.S. employees would rather do their taxes or visit the dentist than endure another slideshow.

With that in mind, crafting an engaging presentation that grabs – and holds – the audience’s attention is a must.

Think it’s impossible? Here’s the good news: It’s not.

We’ve pulled together five need-to-know tips for a presentation that won’t make your audience wish they were watching paint dry.


1. Start with a bang

A strong presentation starts with a strong opening. When we speak, we only have an average of 60 seconds to capture people’s attention – which means the beginning of your presentation carries some serious weight.

Skip the boilerplate, “Today, I’m going to talk to you about…” and challenge yourself to think of something more creative. From a story to a demonstration, there are plenty more compelling ways to begin your presentation than simply stating the obvious.

Need some inspiration to get those creative juices flowing? Check out this opening from Toastmasters World Champion, Darren LaCroix. He hooks his audience right from the start:


2. Make your visual aids visual

Duh, right? This seems obvious. But, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of filling your presentation slides with heavy blocks of text.

Remember, the goal isn’t to have your audience read the information off of your slides. You want them focused on you and what you’re saying – and then you can occasionally direct their attention to a visual that’s displayed on the screen when necessary.

Some of you may be thinking: “Oh, but I can use plenty of text as long as it’s well organized with bullet points!”

That’s not necessarily the case. Take Steve Jobs, for example. He was an incredibly engaging presenter – yet he never used a single bullet point.

Instead, he relied on displaying carefully chosen words and phrases (sans bullets) with plenty of impactful imagery.

It’s a strategy worth replicating, particularly when you consider the research on the Picture Superiority Effect – which states we learn and retain information better when it’s presented in pictures.

When creating your presentation slides, keep Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule in mind:

  • You should use no more than 10 slides
  • Your slides should take no longer than 20 minutes to get through
  • Your font size shouldn’t go below 30-point font

And, yes, we know we just used bullets ourselves. They have their time and place.


3. Involve your audience

One surefire way to engage your audience? Rather than speaking at them, involve them in your presentation.

People don’t have the option to sit back and halfheartedly listen to your content when you actively involve them in what’s happening through things like:

  • Surveys and questions
  • Smaller group discussions
  • Demonstrations

There are plenty more ideas you can use to make your audience members a part of the action. Just check out this TED Talk from musician Bobby McFerrin, where he uses the audience to explain the pentatonic scale and how our brains are wired:

You likely won’t have your audience singing. But, the point remains the same: Involving your audience members is sure to hold their attention far better than just rambling on in front of them.


4. Keep it short

There’s a common theme that you’ve likely noticed with all TED Talks: They’re incredibly short.

When research states that people can only maintain focus on one subject for a finite amount of time (typically right around 10 minutes at the very most), TED decided that they would keep their own presentations under 18 minutes.

No presenter – it doesn’t matter who – is allowed to go past that 18-minute mark.

We know that feels like almost no time at all. And, there will likely be instances when you need to fill a longer presentation slot.

At those times? It’s even more important to use strategies to involve your audience and split your presentation into different parts – like an opening, a small group discussion, and then a closing.

That structure and frequent changing of gears can help to hold their attention longer.


5. Rehearse (but don’t over-rehearse)

Practice makes perfect. And, that’s true – you definitely don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants when giving an important presentation.

But heed this warning: You don’t want to over-rehearse either. That can make you appear far too stiff and formal, which will only lose the focus and engagement of your audience.

Don’t read from any notecards. Instead, move around the stage, show passion and enthusiasm, and look different audience members in the eye. That’s far more compelling than watching someone white-knuckle the sides of a podium.

Look to professor Randy Pausch’s presentation at Carnegie Mellon for an example. While there’s a podium onstage, he still moves around to make it feel as if he’s having a more casual conversation with his audience:

Ready to engage your audience? You’ve sat through your own fair share of boring presentations, and you’d rather not be one of them. Fortunately, you don’t have to be. Put these five key tips to work, and you’re sure to educate and engage your entire audience – yes, even those typical back-row nappers.


Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, productivity, and communication topics. Her advice has been published by numerous outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, TIME, Inc., Business Insider, Mashable, and more. When she manages to ditch her computer screen, you can probably find her spoiling her two rescue mutts, Bert and Gracie.