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What Makes An Impactful Presentation?

What Makes An Impactful Presentation?

Imagine you spend weeks putting together a PowerPoint presentation for a project that you have been leading at work. You format the PowerPoint perfectly with all of the information you need on each slide. When you finally begin to present to your boss and colleagues, you freeze. You’ve failed to do the mental work that has to exist for a powerful presentation which leaves you feeling insecure, your audience disengaged, and the result subpar.

For many professionals, creating and showcasing a presentation at work can be a daunting project. From researching, accumulating data, and formatting presentation slides to practicing positive body language, engaging your audience, and communicating your main objectives, presentations are no joke!

We want to impress our colleagues and boss - what is the secret formula to do so?

Countless aspects make up an impactful presentation such as visual, mental, and physical elements, all of which are necessary for an engaging presentation. Let’s discuss the key elements of an impactful presentation and how we can master them.

Intention

Before any preparation or planning for a presentation can begin, setting an intention for the meeting is a foundational first step. Setting intentions, or principles that help us connect our actions to our values, allows us to form a presentation that aligns with our true desires, passion, and impact. When we prepare with intention, we craft effective and impactful material that will connect with our audience.

Intention setting before a presentation helps us find clarity in our message which we can communicate more concisely and gain confidence in our presentation before we even begin to prepare for it.

How do we set intentions?

Setting intentions revolves around the who, the why, and the how. We must consider our audience (who) and why they are interested in our presentation, or why they should be invested in what we have to say. Then we can determine how we can best deliver our material depending on our audience and their interest in the subject matter.

It is important to keep in mind that our intentions should be based on desired results rather than simply educating, getting engagement from our audience, or closing a chapter on a project.

When setting intentions, we should focus on one or a few of our desired outcomes for the presentation. For example, we can choose outcomes such as communicating our points clearly or using professional public speaking skills. Then we can transform these outcomes into intentions such as “I intend to follow the timestamps in my presentation outline so that all of my points are clearly stated and explained” and “I intend to speak loudly and clearly while making eye contact with my colleagues for the entirety of the presentation.”

Setting intentions is just as beneficial for those who attend presentations. If we want to get more out of meetings or practice being better audience members, we can set intentions such as “I intend to ask questions when I am confused or curious without embarrassment” or “I intend to limit all distractions and dedicate my full attention to the speaker.”

After the presentation, we should reflect on our intentions and determine whether or not we feel we stayed true to them, why we might have struggled with following through with our intentions, and how we can better follow through next time.


Understanding

It is impossible to create an impactful presentation without a strong basis of understanding; an understanding of our audience, our duty as a speaker, the required tone for the presentation, and our strengths and weaknesses as a presenter. 

An understanding of the audience is crucial. When crafting an impactful presentation, remember the audience and their preferences. Create visuals that match how they like to learn and share examples that are in tune with shared goals, experiences, and passions. Humor should be used sparingly and should resonate with your colleagues.

Not only should we have a deep understanding of our audience’s personalities, we should understand their professional backgrounds and what makes them qualified to be present at the meeting. We need to consider our audience’s knowledge, expertise, and experience. Spending a hefty amount of time covering a concept that almost everyone in the room learned at college or through their career is time wasted and signals the audience to disengage.

One way to get a good understanding of your audience is to ensure you understand each person’s role and expertise. In terms of tone, take note of your colleague’s humor so that you can be sure your lighthearted jokes resonate. Consider including concepts your team already knows in your presentation, yet quickly refer to them and use them to build new information upon.

We can gain a better understanding of our audience during the presentation, too. Engage the audience and get to know them better by asking questions throughout, encouraging participation, being quick to take any questions, and practicing active listening and awareness. If your planned content, pace, or jokes are not getting positive responses from your audience, make small adjustments during the presentation to reengage the audience.

One of the most straightforward and beneficial ways to gain understanding is to ask colleagues, managers, and peers for feedback after the presentation. Ask them what they think went well, what could be improved, what they enjoyed, what aspect of the presentation was most impactful to them, and even how they think you did in terms of following through with your intentions.


Presentation Skills

We can spend hours researching, compiling, and formatting interesting information for our presentation, yet if we cannot present with integrity, our presentations fall flat.

Key presentation skills communicate (without verbal explanation) that we are professional, confident, and fully capable of presenting an impactful presentation.

Verbal communication is one of the most important presentation skills to master. We can become great verbal communicators through practicing in conversation, meetings, and presentations appropriate language and concise deliverances of our messages. To be a good verbal communicator is to be open and straightforward yet personable. Practicing good verbal communication can look like expanding and using the full extent of our work vocabulary, having good diction, using full and proper sentences, and communicating concepts that align with our intent.

An aspect of good verbal communication is projection, or speaking loud enough for everyone to easily hear us. Projecting our voice to the back of the room makes us appear confident, helps our audience stay on track with our message, and makes our team feel more comfortable asking questions and joining the conversation.

Speakers and presenters should always be on the journey to becoming a magnificent storyteller. Telling stories during presentations makes meetings enjoyable and suspenseful, yet if stories are told poorly, they can add to confusion or distraction. Practicing telling stories that have an arc and contrasting characters helps audiences connect and relate to the meeting content.

Verbal communication can only carry us so far in a presentation - body language takes us all the way. Having good posture and making eye contact with everyone in the audience helps us exude confidence, professionalism, and willingness to connect. We should also not stray away from using gestures or animated facial expressions to accentuate our points so that the content becomes interesting, exciting, and memorable. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through the presentation as that differentiates us and adds a layer of uniqueness and charm to the meeting.

Having quality meeting materials is a must for an impactful meeting, which means our writing skills must be up to professional standards. Using tools such as Grammarly or simple spelling and grammar checks in document software can ensure our presentation slides and visual aids are perfect. We can note what we like about other presentations as we sit through them at work so that we can perfect our presentation outlines and make every presentation impactful. Using the feedback we ask of our colleagues helps us up our writing skills and presentation outline as well.

As previously mentioned, understanding our audience is essential for a successful presentation, which requires the skill of active listening. It can be difficult to actively listen while presenting, yet actively listening can be practiced when we are not actively presenting, such as while colleagues ask questions, when observing body language during breaks or lulls in the meeting, or when observing the audience after we tell a joke. Our active listening skills help us to better understand our audience (and their preferences, dislikes, and likes), equip us to answer questions more effectively, and prepare us for our next presentation.

When we practice and perfect our presentation skills, we reap benefits such as greater confidence, self-image, critical thinking, problem-solving methods, leadership skills, creativity, and time management.


Visual Meeting Materials 

The last major component of an impactful meeting is the visual elements or meeting materials. From PowerPoint slides to handouts to compiled graphs and graphics, our meeting materials must connect with our audience and be just as digestible as our verbal and physical communication.

Some rules for impactful visual content stem from readability and how our brains are wired. Text and full sentences in slides can lead to cognitive overload as we cannot fully process both auditory signals and text. Therefore, using more images and graphics than text in our meeting material helps our audience process our presentations in their entirety. Any images should be simple or thoroughly explained if they include detail.

Multimedia presentations will always be more impactful than regular slides that contain only text and images. Consider including short videos, digestible GIFs, or polls to keep the audience engaged and make the meeting more memorable. Don’t be afraid to include physical props as well to illustrate concepts.

Through our learned understanding of our audience, we can craft our slides and materials to perfectly target our audience and tell a compelling story.

The format and structure of materials are imperative for our audience to comprehend and for our message to be enhanced. Slides should be consistent and formatted the same in terms of font, font size, logo, spacing, and title. Different subjects should be broken up with transition slides and only one idea should be presented on each slide.

To ensure our slides are accessible to everyone, we should choose highly contrasting colors with plain backgrounds and large font sizes. Unordinary color combinations might not be easy for everyone to see and text should be simple and easy to read.

All in all, the slides and materials should communicate the main takeaway. Whatever we want the audience to leave with should be communicated in our material just as it is in our verbal communication.

Over time, we can create templates for impactful visual elements and improve upon them. After meetings and after collecting feedback, tweak the slides or template so that the next presentation will be easier and more impactful.

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