You’re next in line to give a presentation, you’re watching the guy before you work the audience and get laugh after laugh. You swallow, dab your brow, and look down at your notes, “A man walked into a sales conference…”
Being a humorous and entertaining presenter is pretty much synonymous with being confident: having an easy manner when it comes to presentations. Humorous and entertaining presenters swagger onto the stage with relaxed body language and their quick-wittedness sees them respond agilely to any question with a joke and a dash of insight.
Don’tcha just hate ‘em.
If you’re the person that has to follow the funny guy and you’re dreading it, here are five ways to ace your presentation like a pro. And a bit of mythbusting.
Want to be funny? Go into stand-up comedy.
There’s no truth in the idea that funny presenters are good presenters. If you find you have a knack for one-liners, may I wish you the best of luck in your new career as a stand-up comedian. If this isn’t you, please don’t think it excludes you from being a good presenter.
We are engaged by funny people — we find them easy to listen to. They are always so natural in their delivery that you get the impression they could talk for hours on any subject and you’d be transfixed. BUT! The trap that so many of us fall into is thinking that all we need to do is insert a great gag and suddenly our presentation content will be so much more interesting.
So, why does being a funny presenter not necessarily mean you’re a good presenter? If we find funny people engaging, surely this is a recipe for success?
Well sort of. But not quite.
Think about your repertoire of dinner-party stories — the kind of anecdote you can pull out over dessert and leave everyone in stitches. I have some great stories like this. Am I likely to drop that into a presentation about my company’s projected forecast? Err…no.
The biggest problem with being the funny guy when presenting, is that everyone in your audience will switch on and listen to what you’re saying because it’s engaging and you’ve told the story a hundred times and you’re really comfortable with it, but the likelihood is that what you’re saying has no relevance at all to the content you should be presenting.
“Here are the projections we’re forecasting for this fiscal year. Speaking of forecasting, that reminds me of this hilarious holiday I took to Bermuda when there was a huge storm forecast…”
Hilarious! And irrelevant.
So being the funny guy isn’t your ticket to presentation success — you can scratch out all your gags and anecdotes from your notes. *Sigh*.
“But Hannah!” I hear you cry. “I thought this was an article to help me be funny and entertaining.”
Well readers, it is, and I’m going to do more than that (#valueformoney) — I’m going to help you to be engaging as well.
Once upon a time…
Just because we shouldn’t emulate comedians, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. Some of the funniest comedians I’ve seen do their best jokes as long pieces of narrative that get funnier and funnier.
What is it about stories that draws us in so much?
Humans love stories. We love a beginning, a middle, and — man — we live for a good ending. That’s why we love listening to anecdotes, but turn off when we’re listening to statistics.
But you can tell stories without starting with “There was this one time…” Tell stories about your data. Don’t give the game away too early. If you’re presenting something about sales projections, bring up the figures to date and leave the last one as a tantalizing gap that the audience is hankering for you to fill! If you need help with your graphs and charts, click here to see some pretty cool resources.
Storytelling can work in so many presenting scenarios. Instead of telling your audience what your fantastic new product can do, paint them a picture. Start by telling stories of the challenges they have and then — enter stage left — introduce your incredible product as the hero. Here’s what it can do and — more importantly — here’s how it can help your audience. *Applause*.
So — tip number one: tell stories.
Think this is good? You should see my slides.
Really charismatic people can talk and talk without slides and people are transfixed. That, my friends, is more than a teeny-weeny bit scary if you’re not the kind of person that thrives in high-pressure situations. So don’t put yourself under that unnecessary pressure. Let someone — or rather something — else help with the heavy lifting.
Engaging visual slides that support your message are absolutely critical in giving a good presentation. If you stand in front of a list of bullet points, people will be turned off before you even open your mouth.
The solution is visual slides that work with you and reveal what you want, when you want it. Now this is a whole other topic I could write about for hours and hours, but I’m not going to do that here, I’m instead going to point you to this great resource that will help you.
What’s the gain for you here? For a start, your audience is more engaged, but you’re more relaxed too. If you’re not worried about carrying the whole presentation on your own, you will relax and deliver everything more naturally.
People who present bad slides present badly. Fact.
[Insert text here] — or rather, don’t…
I’ll just say one more thing about visual slides. Visual slides don’t have much text on them at all. Okay, labels and the odd caption, but we’re not talking about full sentences and no sniff of a bullet point at all. The thing with having text on slides is that you panic and read it out. The audience can read much faster than you can speak, so if you’re reading stuff out to them, chances are they’ve already read it, understood it, and are now glowering at you, waiting for you to finish.
This is why bullet points on slides don’t work.
But there’s another reason that helps in presenting too. If you have visual slides with as little text as possible you have so much more scope to talk around subjects. For a face-to-face presentation, I’d recommend you don’t write a script, but instead write notes that you can talk around. Having a script — much like having text on the slide — ties you and restricts you to saying. The. Exact. Words. You. Wrote. And. Nothing. Else.
It takes a leap of faith, but you should find you speak far more fluently if your slides don’t have much text on them.
Let’s go back to our dinnertime anecdote. Do you use the same words every time? Unlikely.
You tell the story because you know it, but you express it differently each time. That’s what we’re aiming for here: something that enables you to illustrate your point while you explain it with ease and a natural charm borne out of your happy demeanor.
Practice makes perfect
But don’t think you can make some really beautiful visual slides, get rid of the text, and then — as if by magic — present them like a pro. Practice really does make perfect. I don’t mean sit down 20 minutes before the presentation and flick through the slides in show mode reciting it to yourself in your head.
Newsflash! We all sound better in our heads.
You need to present the slides. Out loud. Criiiinge. But seriously, it’s the only way to do it. You’ll find you get so familiar with the stories you’re telling, and the visuals that accompany them, that when you come to present you’ll talk naturally because you know the content so well — like your dinnertime story.
Don’t do it just once. Do it loads. Find a willing audience. Find some people who can give you feedback.
Stand-up comedians are only good because they’ve practiced their routines.
The personal touch
And in all of this don’t be afraid to be yourself. If your presentation is devoid of personality you’ll lose so much of that connection with your audience. Be enthusiastic. Show emotion (not Oscar-winning hammed-up emotion, but something that shows you’re genuinely interested by something).
I know we don’t always have the luxury of presenting content that we’re passionate about, but if you’re telling well-rehearsed stories with visual slides, your audience will be far more engaged.
If you’re hungry for more useful tips on how to give engaging presentations, read our popular post on storytelling techniques used by the most inspiring TED presenters here or how to hook your audience with effective presentation starters here.
And if you have any advice of your own on how to become a more natural and engaging presenter, let us know in the comments section below!