I just got back from a conference recently, and, having spent several days holed up in hotel meeting rooms (a situation that I quite literally have nightmares about sometimes), I had a chance to reflect on what makes a compelling presentation, from the perspective of those in the audience. Here are some tips:
Think about your audience members first – Who are they? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What did your title promise to them? In particular, don’t waste people’s time telling them things they already know.
What do you want them to know/believe/do? – With your audience members in mind, remember that it is difficult for them to keep track of many ideas at a time. I tell my students who struggle with writing to write a headline first, and this can work with a presentation, as well. Identify your central point and make it clear at the beginning.
Supply needed context – I had some student presentations last week that missed the mark here. If you are talking about a book the audience hasn’t read, you should say it takes place in Guatemala before you start talking about indigenous groups and mountains. A map would be nice, too.
What are the connections? – If you want people to remember an oral presentation, you have to make connections between information clear. For each major point, tell how it relates back to that central point. At least every 5 minutes stop and recap. “So far, we have seen X, Y and Z, which support the central point of Z…”
Use visuals intelligently – Don’t write too much, unless you want people to read instead of listen. Use words to set a framework and make them big enough to see. Test things out to be sure, and check from the back of the room. Use images when you need them. Pointless clip art for the purpose of a visual is distracting and, well, pointless.
Don’t read your slides – I can read. I believe you can, too. Use my time to provide me with depth and context.