When giving a presentation, you want to immediately capture the audience’s attention in order to ensure they hang on every word you say. You probably know how important it is to show your audience something rather than beat them over the head with your explanation, but there are many ways you can go about doing this. Use the following tips to “wow” your audience, and make what you have to say truly understood by everyone in the room.
1. Tell a story
Start your speech off with an anecdote that relates to your presentation’s overall theme. It can be a personal narrative, or a story relating to a famous individual. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s meaning is blatantly obvious by the end of it. Once you finish relaying the story, quickly transition into the “meat” of your speech. For example, if your presentation revolves around the idea that it’s never too late to do something great, you might choose to talk about author Frank McCourt, who penned the Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes in his mid-60s. Telling a story before diving into your point makes what you have to say much more tangible to the audience.
2. Ask a rhetorical question
A rhetorical question is a question posed not to be answered straight out, but to be used to further the speaker’s point or idea. Lawyers often use rhetoric during their opening and closing arguments in order to sway the jury’s perspective on a certain issue. Rhetorical questions often do not have one correct answer, especially until more information is gleaned about the situation. One such example is the question, “Is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?” Since there are many facets to the question, in order to answer it succinctly the audience must hear more about the situation at hand. By opening with a rhetorical question, a speaker ensures the audience will listen for more information as he continues his presentation.
3. State a shocking statistic or headline
The evening news thrives on shock value to keep its audience tuned in and on the hook for the entire hour. “A child was rushed to the hospital after ingesting this common product that you probably have in your cabinet right now. Stay tuned to find out more.” Regardless of what other news is discussed for the next hour, you will be glued to the TV waiting to see what could have been so deadly (and it’ll turn out to be rat poison, or another painfully obvious product). While I wouldn’t condone keeping your audience on the hook through trickery, if the statistic you use directly connects to your overall theme, it’s a great way to get them to listen.
4. Use a powerful quote
Quoting a well-known world leader, philosopher, or activist is incredibly effective in getting your audience to care about what you have to say. After all, if a well-respected individual in history took the time to discuss or debate the topic, it must be important. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and in turn many civil rights activists have used King’s words in their own fights for equality. When using the words of another, you should work to extrapolate on their ideas and ideals, and use rhetoric to further your cause. When you use the famous words of a popular historical figure, you ensure your audience knows just how important your presentation will be.
5. Show a photograph
It’s definitely cliche, but a picture is worth a thousand words. There’s not a single warm-blooded person in this world who wouldn’t be moved to tears upon viewing the infamous picture of Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked down the street in Vietnam after a US napalm strike. That single image conjures up memories of Vietnam War-era America, from the protests to the thousands and thousands of deaths, to the atrocious way our veterans were treated upon their return. And the message it sends is loud and clear: War destroys lives. The perfect photograph for a presentation sets the stage for the remainder of the speech, and portrays to the audience just how passionate the speaker is about what he has to say.
6. Use a visual aid
At the risk of sounding redundant, a visual aid is useful in that it helps the audience physically see what the speaker is saying. Visual aids are most productive when discussing statistics in some way, so the numbers can actually be seen on a graph. They can also help make numbers and statistics come alive, rather than simply being read aloud. For example, when giving a speech on the dangers of tobacco, you might choose to show a visual aid which uses stick figures to represent each cigarette-related death over the course of a year (though for that, you might want to use a computer screen in order to fit every figure onto one screen). Hearing that six million people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses might sound like a lot, but actually scrolling through six million tiny images will make that number really come alive for your audience.
7. Play a video
I’m thinking of the videos I saw when taking a defensive driving course. As a teenager with a new license, all I wanted to do was get in the car and drive. Of course, I’d known of the horrors of driving recklessly, but talking about them and actually seeing them are two different things. By actually showing a video of a potentially deadly car crash before discussing how and why it happened, the presenters were able to drive (sorry) their point home clearly and effectively. And I’m absolutely positive we all buckled up the second we got in our cars to drive home that night.
Featured photo credit: Martin Luther King, Jr., giving a speech, while George Meany, also at the speakers’ table, listens/Kheel Center via farm6.staticflickr.com