How not to bore your audience

“The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”
                                               Herman Hupfeldt.  

A couple of weeks back now, I was fortunate to attend the MARCOM 2009 conference, courtesy of IABC/Toronto (thank you!). While I was excited to learn new social media strategies from such speakers as Rahaf Harfoush, who was a member of Obama’s New Media Team, and Louise Clements, head of sales at Facebook in Canada, it was the presentation by Arlene Dickinson, CEO of Venture Communications, and a member of the CBC’s The Dragons’ Den,  who most impressed me. It wasn’t just what she said, but how she said it. The woman gives good powerpoint! Strong visuals with clear and simple messages. This got me thinking that while the content of presentations about communications have changed in the past few years with the advent of social media, the fundamentals of good presentations have not. 

So after weeks of attending many, many talks here’s what I think makes for ones that stand out:

1. Speak at a pace people can understand.  If you feel the need to speed up your presentation in order to fit it all in, it’s likely you’re trying to cover too much for the time allotted to you. Besides, most people can only remember a few points from your presentation. So if you focus on three points and use examples, and even better stories, to illustrate your points, you’re much more likely to deliver the message you want to deliver.


2. Step away from the podium.This works best if you have a portable microphone, but even if that’s not available, most people can learn with practice to project their voice sufficiently so that they can at least have some interaction with the audience.

3. Use minimal words and exciting visuals on your slides. In a 140 character universe, it behooves us to figure out a way to communicate our messages without writing paragraphs of text on our Powerpoint presentations. 

4. Be confident or act as if you are.Even if you’re nervous as heck, it’s unlikely your audience is aware of that. One trick is to monitor your thoughts. Most often anxiety comes from thinking more about yourself than about giving your audience the information they need.

5. Make your presentation about your audience. Sure you’ve been invited to speak because you have powerful examples of Facebook or Twitter or e-mail campaigns. But it’s helpful to remember the first rule of communications: WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?) Taking some time to make recommendations as to how the people listening to you could use similar techniques with their own campaigns, is helpful to make that bridge.

6. Ask good questions. Arlene Dickinson presented four questions for the audience to consider during her talk. A key one that left me thinking was “If you asked your people what the pupose of your organization is would you get a consistent answer?” She then provided examples of Porsche = fast and Volvo = safe. It prompted me to think about my own company and those of my clients.  

7. Use simple clear images. Actor Marlo Thomas illustrated this once when I heard her speak at the Unique Lives and Experiences series at Roy Thomson Hall. Involved with raising money for a children’s hospital, she told the story of how she arrived at the hospital one morning to see a celebration of what she thought was someone’s birthday with cake, balloons and children laughing. But when she asked whose birthday it was, she was told that they were actually celebrating one boy’s last day of chemotherapy.  Pass me my cheque book please!

What are your tips for giving good presentations?



8 thoughts on “How not to bore your audience

  1. Excellent article!

    I agree with all of the 7 points presented. I’ve had positive feedback from the use of video clips in my presentations. Of course you must make sure that the audio system can deliver the sound effectively in the venue where you are presenting.

  2. Great article! These 7 points will help focus my presentations and get my message out. Thanks

  3. I’ve attended several presentations re. social media over the last couple of years (largely sponsored by IABC) and, as I explained in our brief conversation, found (predictably) little or no information on how to actually do it. Working alone presents many challenges, not the least of which is having no counsel re. technical hurdles.

    I really appreciate your suggestions — and your follow-up — and with your prompting, I realize it is time to get on this social media bandwagon. Learning to navigate LinkedIn is a good place to start.

    Re: your posting regarding great presentations, your comments are right on track. All I could think of while reading them is that the last presentation I attended didn’t meet any of your criteria — speak at a pace people can understand; use exciting visuals? I think not.

    There, that’s my first LinkedIn “posting.” How am I doing so far?!

    Best, JB

  4. Hi JB,
    Perfect on your first blog post! Congratulations. Just think how far you’ve come even since we met…
    Anything else I can do to help, just let me know.


  5. Hi Anne.
    Excellent points.
    I have some questions.
    Does the audience get copies of the slides? Do they have them in advance?
    What role does humour play in keeping audience attention?
    One of McGill’s marketing professors, the late lamented Roger Bennet, used to keep throwing on overheads as he talked. They were funny cartoons that had nothing to do with his topic. Since speakers can’t talk as fast as listeners can comprehend, I figure he kept his listeners from getting bored, and in fact the occasional distractions forced them to pay closer attention to his message.
    Most importantly, if I have kept the audience’s attention, and maybe even not bored them, what assurance do I have that they got my message, and more importantly will hire my professional services?


  6. Hi David,
    Thank you. It depends on the type of presentation you’re doing. When I train people, I like to distribute handouts because they often like to take notes and follow along. (Although these days I might reconsider as many people take notes on their mobile devices and handing out all that paper can be environmentally problematic.) But if it’s an inspirational presentation, some slides with a few key points, visuals, an embedded video perhaps would be best to capture people’s attention. Of course, humour works well to keep them interested. As for hiring your professional services, that’s a whole other post but let’s just say if you engage them, show that you’re intensely knowledgeable and approachable, that would be a good start. I once heard an insurance broker speak at a City of Toronto event for entrepreneurs. He was so well-informed on the subject and so open to questions that I’ve referred numerous associates to him and he’s been great.

  7. Great tips here, Anne. I try to avoid passing out slides in advance, because I want to keep everyone together on the same slide. I post the slides to, though, and that way I can tell everyone to just sit back and relax, participate in the discussion, but don’t worry about trying to take excessive notes.

    This also lets me demonstrate the benefits of Slideshare (YouTube for PowerPoints), and how it can embed in your blog.

    Sometimes I give them a one-page handout with reference links that they can use for doodling notes.

    I think variety and pace make a big difference, and some video clips can be really helpful.

    Best regards,


  8. Hi Lee,
    Thanks for your handy tips and great point about Slideshare. I always feel like I can relax in a session as soon as presenters say they’ve posted there.
    When I give handouts, it tends to be more of a small-group or individual hands-on daylong or half-day training session so that I can include exercises etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *