Are You Not Entertained? What Makes for a Great Presentation?

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This topic contains 21 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  Stephen Peteritas 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #101148

    Over the past year, I have done a lot of speaking…and a lot of different kinds of speaking, from panels to formal educational workshops to webinars and everything in between…including my first keynote last week at the NAGC Communications School. Whereas I tried to be more formal with some of these other delivery modes, throwing in some videos and crowd interaction to keep people engaged and to crowd-source knowledge, I felt as if I needed to be a bit more fun and entertaining with the keynote…so I included a lot more “laugh-inducing” content and less direct crowd engagement or hard core content.

    Then I read this well-written summary of the NAGC event by Dr. Julie Ferris. She raises an issue about the presentations (of which I was guilty!). Here’s an excerpt from her great post:
    Each PowerPoint I watched contained more photographic images, clever artwork and punchlines than a Demetri Martin routine. It was made clear that as we chastised students for their lack of focus, we also prepared presentations for crowds we assumed would be similarly inattentive. It doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh (or copy some of David Olive’s great diagrams to show colleagues). What it means is, overall our ability to process detail and desire for fast, fun, multisensory nuggets is on the rise. I <3 conferences too, does slide after slide of cheap humor ultimately sacrifice? I came for discussions and ideas … and got laughs. In this hyper-alert world of sound bites, multitasking and 140-character realities, must we first be entertained in order to learn?
    I see presentations as a public service – to inspire and inform – and want to deliver content that has impact and influence…and I suspect that others who have speaking opportunities will benefit from your insight as well. So what do you think?
    Thanks in advance for thoughts…
    …and, yes, that was a “Gladiator” reference in the title. 🙂

  • #101190

    Stephen Peteritas

    First off Andy, this title just makes me want to make off-the-wall comments. I mean I truly think that you have to be entertaining to be a successful presenter. But with that said entertainment comes in so many forms and I think that people often use cheap laughs as a form of entertainment because it’s quiet simply the easiest to accomplish.

    It’s much hard to make people care than it is to laugh. Just look at television shows on the air as evidence. Comedies are a dime a dozen but if you make a show that people really care about then you win the ratings. For example American Idol (I know eye roll) gets a significant amount of people to care about their contestants and actually waste time to call in and vote after the show and no surprise that they rule the ratings.

    A successful presentation is all about getting people to care what you have to say but that’s very VERY hard to do. Often times when I see speaker doing it I walk away loosing respect because they are being over dramatic.

    So basically after that rambling I’m back at square one and would like to hear other comments to see where others stand.

  • #101188

    Julie E. Ferris

    Part of my investment in watching so many PowerPoints that had really clever, cute inserted jokes and/or drawn slides or personal photographic images is that I’m a public speaker. I mean, I *DO* speeches and presentations for groups and organizations and I have spent more than 14 years in academia and consulting teaching people how to stand still in front of a crowd and deliver effective information.

    I even used to give presentations on what makes good PowerPoint. I saw what was happening as a bit ahead of the curve from what we do at my current job. We’ve finally broken the dense, mega-slide habits, but we are not yet into jokes-in-context.

    I agree that it lightens the room, wakes up the sleepers in the back and makes for a great challenge for speakers. You’re not allowed to simply memorize 5 x 5 bullet points (if we’re lucky) or read them from the screen (just as we’re also reading them). You’re forced to know your material, know where the gags fit, know how to speak up to them and then back off them. Frankly, it requires better ability as a speaker and a presenter, I think it ups the ante.

    I laughed…loudly. (That was me in the back…) I drew some of the images and sketches and brought them back to my office. (This weekend, a colleague sent me a text asking “what was that slide again? I am telling a friend about it”)

    It just struck me as a trend–seeing so many themed the same way usually is, right?
    It’s a trend I can get behind, but I worry about poor speakers, poor presenters attempting it. I think it could breed epic fail…

  • #101186

    @Stephen – Being completely open and honest: that’s exactly what I fear happened last week. I went for the entertainment side of things because it was a closing keynote and felt as if people were chock full of content, so wanted to keep it lighter…but may not have shared enough good, usable content in the end….which is my usual modus operandi – probably overwhelming with way too much meat (like a Brazilian steakhouse!). So there’s a balance between those two points.

    @Julie – Really happy to hear (and learn) from you! Disclosure: I had been asked to give that speech the previous Tuesday…went on vacation for 4 days, then came back and cobbled it together quickly. So I used my notes far more than I normally do…and leaned on humor to get me through the bulk. But let’s take a typical 60 min talk and break it down. For me, what makes a great presentation:

    Opening with Humor/Video/Story: 5 mins
    Outline of Way Forward: 5 mins or less
    3-5 Solid Points that combine Data and Story: 30-40 minutes
    3-5 Concrete Take-Aways: 5-10 mins
    Strong Close with Image/Humor/Story/Video: 5 mins or less
    Q & A: 5-10 mins

    What would you add/change?

  • #101184

    Glen Thomas

    For me, the use of humor in my presentations is part of who I am away from the podium. It’s part of my efforts to maintain sanity at home (raising two toddler boys) and at work (doing PR for a utility). I’m going to goof on Ashton Kutcher whether or not I’m doing a Twitter presentation. I always try to work in the good, bad and ugly of what I’ve learned so that the pop culture references are balanced by helpful business information. I can’t honestly say that I saw more efforts at humor in these presentations than others, so it’s hard for me to say that I think it’s a trend or coincidence. All I can do is explain my own warped thought processes. I will say as an attendee that humor delivered well will certainly resonate, but it’s not critical that a presentation be funny to be helpful.

  • #101182

    Thanks, Glen. A good blend is key…and I think there is a trend toward spicing up presentations a bit so it’s not 45 slides with 10 bullet points on each…which is definitely a good thing.

    Also, in a world of sound bites and quick info hits, we’re all getting programmed to think shorter…coupled with a form of entertainment as we do it. Gives new meaning to “commercial” culture.

  • #101180

    Julie E. Ferris

    This is one of the points I took away. The conference was heavy in Social Media–it is absolutely the hottest conversation out there. In 140 characters or less, we live by headlines. It’s no wonder to me that traditional PowerPoint revelations of data and analysis and good, clear bulleted points are now spliced with quick images and laughs. We’re living more by the bites (and bytes? ouch…), so it seems clear the presentation medium has shifted as well.

    We were told Gen X’ers were the “MTV generation” –only subsisting on attention-deficit inspiring nuggets. Arguably, this cultural moment demonstrates our attentions are even more fragmented. The real conversation, then, for we government communicators, is how to capture folks when they’re giving you room to be a fragment in their thinking. Arguably, humor is one model.

  • #101178

    Precisely! I think you have 1-2 minutes tops to say something meaningful to most people. So it’s got to combine attention-grabbing content with a sticky message that drives people to your desired end. No easy task! “Click It or Ticket” stands out in my mind as a salient example…but the commercials should include something like the Trunk Monkey for maximum…er…impact. 😉

    And that’s why I think presentations have (d)evolved to shorter segments with images and 140-characterable language.

    But do we like this? Or is it just one of those “that’s just the way it is….” situations?/

  • #101176


    My thoughts are being witty, relating to your audience, including your audience in your presentation (have them participate in some way) are all a part of catching the ears of your audience (however I cannot tell you how many times I have basically heard the same information from numerous presenters). I believe it is also important to make sure your audience takes away something new from your presentation to make it worthwhile. I agree you may have to repeat some of the same ‘ol drivel everyone else does, but you should add value to the standard message. After all, isn’t your reputation as a presenter also important? Who wants their presentation to be known as “more of the same” with a few jokes thrown in? You might not be asked to speak again, or at best known as an entertaining speaker with the same information as all the others. Bottom line – you can entertain them while you have a captive audience, but isn’t the goal/outcome to motivate your audience to change their behavior (or make them understand an alternative viewpoint) – so they take something with them?

  • #101174

    Josh Salmons (an excellent presenter, btw) wrote a good post to your point, Tricia:

    The importance of conference rapport

    It’s really the ideal – to attend the rest of the event so that you can listen to the other speakers, meet audience members and adjust your presentation based on those data points in advance of your “time on stage.” Seeing what others have said enables a presenter to cut and modify on the fly…but really hard to do that when you pop in and out (as I so often have to do…)

    Agree with your point on modifying behavior…ultimately, it’s about motivating them to leave your talk and do something different…but per my comments to Julie…that motivational element has to be sticky enough that it naws at the person’s psyche for severals days until the new behavior kicks in.

  • #101172

    Srinidhi Boray

    Truths “inconvenient” most times are not entertaining. Yes, perceptions are certainly, especially that is full of Wit, but sadly they are all convenient diversion from the brute-ness that often truth encounters.

    Humor and wit like a poem sublimates reality.

  • #101170

    Amy Mengel

    I agree that I’m seeing a lot more graphically pleasing and entertaining slides at conferences, and I think those are more impactful than ones that are full of boring text and charts.

    But I still think too many presenters use PowerPoint as a crutch. The best presentations are the ones where the presenter adds a ton of context over and above what’s on the slide – tells stories, weaves a narrative, gives people something to remember. I’ve always thought that the mark of a good slide deck is that if someone who didn’t attend your session looked at it afterwards and couldn’t possibly figure it out (some think the opposite is true!). If you pack your slides so full of data and info, then why do people need to pay attention to the speaker? The slides should merely be a visual add and a cue for the speaker.

    I think it would be interesting for more conferences to do a Pecha Kucha format (20 slides / 20 seconds per slide) and leave more time for Q&A. Would be neat to see if the audience felt more or less engaged after this type of presentation (or more informed).

    Great discussion going here!

  • #101168

    Mark Hammer

    Whenever people bring up the topic of humor to kick off a presentation, I am always reminded of a scene in the Woody Allen film “Bananas”. Allen’s character, Fielding Melish, dressed up like Fidel Castro, is at some Manhattan $500-a-plate function to raise funds for a fictional Central American republic. He is nervous, constantly adjusting his glasses, and his advisor tells him to simply start off with a joke. Melish approaches the podium to gaze out at a ballroom filled with tuxedos and sequined gowns. He starts out “I am reminded of the very humorous story of the farmer who had incestuous relations with all 5 of his daughters…”. But for the sound of lower jaws slapping the floor, a deathly silence fills the room, as people stare, bug-eyed. Cut to the escape scene.

    It’s not THAT you start off with humor, it’s what humor you start off with.

    Personally, I think a good presentation is one that does the following:

    1) Allows you to make as much eye contact with the audience as possible. If it feels like a personal conversation, people pay attention and stay engaged. If it feels like an impersonal lecture, they drift off, and the doodling begins. Consequently, your slides should really contain “prompts” that remind you of what you want to say, rather than content you are obliged to read. Few things are more disengaging than waiting for someone to finish reading aloud what you’ve already scanned through in a second.

    2) Provides only as much content as is needed to elicit good focussed questions from the audience, and no more than that. Even if you have more content, save it for dessert. When an audience member gets to ask a good question, and the speaker can reply with “That’s a good question”, and answer it with cogent information that addresses the question, people are more apt to perceive the presentation as excellent and fulfilling, since it went beyond the actual presentation in a productive manner. Complimenting the audience doesn’t hurt either. By contrast, a presentation that attempts to pack in too much, such that the speaker has to race through slides, declaring “We can skip that one….and that one”, leaves the audience feeling confused and perceiving that the presenter had no particular organized message to get out.

    3) The big picture. I mean this in the literal sense. My doctoral supervisor coached me to “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, then TELL them, then tell ’em what you told ’em”. Big circles-and-arrows diagrams, however, can permit people to more easily perceive the entire concept of what you’re trying to convey. Not everybody, but certainly a great many, like to be able to see everything at once, and sometimes a visual “map” lets them do that. It gives you something you can point to in discussion, and fulfills the need for “prompts”. Plus, it makes a great summary that people can use to re-convey to others what you told them.

    4) Finally, given that public speaking is usually up in the top 10 of listed fears and phobias, nobody is waiting for you to screw up. They are all waiting for you to say somethng that interests them and makes them feel validated via their comprehension. The quicker you can get them to some degree of comprehension about something, the sooner they will begin to perceive the presentation as worth their while. Even if you think everyone in the room knows more about the topic than you do, reminding them of the validity of what they know will make you look good in their eyes.

    One of the best presenters I’ve ever seen is intelligence and personality guru Robert Sternberg. His style is to always start with an anecdote and common sense example of what he will be talking about. Something that everybody in the room understands. Once everyone is convinced they will comprehend what is to follow, he then proceeds to present more detailed information that people can easily nest within, or link up to, the common sense example. Works like a charm.

  • #101166

    Carol Davison

    As a trainer I know that I can either touch people emotionally (not necessarily or appropriately with humor) or repeat, repat, repeat, repeat, repeat training to get them to change their behavior. I use emotion. Last year I began every CFC campaign speech with the story of how when my dad and I were delivering food baskets to the poor, I asked him “Why are we giving them books?” Dad replied “So their children have something to open for Christmas.” That story moves me whenever I think of it, and evidently it moved my listeners too because I rasied $946,000.

  • #101164

    Hi Carol…I like it. Emotion requires some vulnerability of the speaker…and depends on the audience, I think. What appears to be universally effective is the use of story…and showing people their character’s role. What do you think?

  • #101162

    Bill Brantley

    @ Andy: I agree with Dr. Ferris. It seems to be the trend toward more entertaining presentations that are short on meaty content. Many would like to blame PowerPoint and Twitter but I believe it is that people haven’t learned the fundamentals of giving a good presentation or they have become lazy. I don’t care how entertaining the speaker is; if I don’t get any meaty content or didn’t learn something new, then I was just eating frosting instead of cake and I feel cheated.

    You don’t have anything to worry about in your case. Your outline for what makes a great presentation is the basic foundation for structuring a presentation. And you have a good capacity for self-criticism which is another hallmark of a good presenter. Your instincts were right on the keynote. Keynotes set the tone for the event and they should be entertaining and prime the audience for the presentations to come.

    If you haven’t already read the following, I suggest these books. I have used them to teach students how to make effective presentations (PowerPoint including) and the feedback has been great:

    1) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
    by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
    2) slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
    by Nancy Duarte
    3) Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® 2007 to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire
    by Cliff Atkinson
    4) The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever
    by Cliff Atkinson
    5) Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
    by John Medina

  • #101160

    Tip from Gov 2.0 Expo –

  • #101158

    Srinidhi Boray

    Check this presentation – Empathic Civilization

    Also, new presentation tool Prezi

    More than humor and wit, what is more effective is “creativity” and “mastery” over the subject by the presenter. Rest all are stand-up comedy.

  • #101156

    Rick Rybeck

    Ultimately, it’s all about telling a good story. Stories are how we learn as children — and it remains one of the most compelling formats to convey information.

    So I convert data (which can be so much noise) into information. Then I structure the information (which can sometimes be somewhat technical) into a story. Folks might not remember the technical details, but they often remember the story.


  • #101154

    Tracy Kerchkof

    Jokes or not, I can’t concentrate very hard for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. The best presentations, I think, are the ones that take this into account and allow room for questions or some kind of interaction frequently. Also, not going too fast and not taking more than your alloted amount of time. I understand it is hard to cut information, but just keep reciting to yourself, quality not quantity. I’ll get much more out of a presentation that is easy to follow cause the speaker is speaking clearly and evenly, and I don’t feel like I’m just there to unscrew my skull to let you overpour facts into my skull.

    Also, there is a difference between jokes and personality. Things like not being (noticeably) too nervous, speaking in plain language and only using jargon appropriate for the crowd (conservatively), talking like the presentation is just like having a conversation with someone at their desk, coming off as approachable all keep me engaged.

    Now I just have to keep this in mind for my presentations :-).

  • #101152

    Craig Morony

    Actually your thread title got me thinking of another great, highly entertaining and much loved presenter: Julius Sumner Miller. Held in such affection he remains widely recognised more than 20 years after his death. Sumner Miller’s was reknowned for his catchphrases “Why is it so?” and “Are you not impressed?”.

    One of his (many) strengths as a presenter was that *he* was visibly entertained — enthralled even — by his subject matter. Not to the point of monotonous detail, but rather in the manner of being utterly fascinated and intrigued. That was a standpoint that his audience could share and which likely had him construct his presentations from the audience’s perspective. Surely all good presenters ask “What is really interesting, new, unusual (for the audience) in this topic?”

    Probably helps get over any presenter nervousness, as well!

  • #101150

    Julia Ridgely

    I agree that the presenter’s passion for the topic, rather than the Jokes Per Minute, is what keeps me engaged. A provocative image or quotation used as a counterpoint to what the presenter is saying can get me more mentally involved, while a random cartoon or LOLcat entertains me for a few seconds but doesn’t help me register the presenter’s message.

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