When you are at a conference for a couple of days and listening to presentations back to back, you really get a sense of what works, and what doesn’t and you can learn from that experience.

As always, it is the personal story and the authenticity of the presenter that resonates most for me. But regardless of the presentation style, I want to leave having received at least one nugget of information that I can use in my business or personal life.

What I reel against is the canned performance; the one where you can tell almost from the get-go that the presentation from start to finish is all about them. The “what’s in it for me?” mantra is actually about the presenter, not the audience.

Their trick is to spend so much time tooting their own horn, that they run out of time, giving you a teaser of what you could learn from them — on another occasion of course and after you have parted with your hard-earned dollars. They spend the last five or 10 minutes up-selling, and I am always amazed that some people buy into one of the offerings. It’s too bad really, because often they do have worthwhile information to share, but they don’t.

Maybe I am too cynical, but over the years, I have heard numerous speakers, and here’s my list of what works, and what to avoid.

  • Humour A great sense of humour and an ability to poke fun at
  • Variety Changing up how the information is presented so we are not
    just sitting there being lectured to
  • Involve audience More interaction so you can connect not just with
    presenter but other participants as well
  • Hands on learning An opportunity to put the new information into
    practice so you can see straight away how it works
  • Practical information that is relevant to me and that I can use in my
    everyday life
  • Speak out Speaking out clearly and not rushing the presentation
  • No jargon Don’t assume that the audience knows all the acronyms or
  • Organize material A systematic handout so you can follow as the
    presentation moves along, and not be flicking through pages trying to catch up.
  • Be consistent and clear If you are going to use a handout where
    people fill in the blanks, make sure it is clear where the answer goes. Keep the wording
  • Timing Start and finish on time. A professional speaker times her
    presentation so her material is covered in the time given her. Be respectful of the
    organizer who has the day planned carefully.
  • Good visuals Instead of the boring power points with lots of words
  • Early involvement Involve the audience early on, asking questions and
    brainstorming answers
  • Know your audience Find out who is in the audience, and make sure
    your information is not too basic or too advanced. (It’s a fine line, I know.)
  • Tell stories Stories are impactful, use them to illustrate your points.
    People remember stories.
  • Be real Share lessons you have learned the hard way. The audience
    will respect you and listen harder because you have something concrete to offer. You’ve
    been there, and yes, got the T-shirt.

Making presentations to a broad audience is not easy and depending on people’s learning styles and willingness to learn, it will not be possible to please everyone all of the time, but when you think about how adults learn, and incorporate different mechanisms to get your message across, that will take you a long way to getting there.

Break a leg.

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