How to Deliver a Winning Presentation

I have delivered many a presentation in my day and enjoy learning from each one so that I can get more engaging, captivating, and well, better! Here are a few great snippets I have picked up along the way.

1. Research the audience. No presentation can be successful without background research. The best presenters understand their audiences—what their concerns are and what language they speak. The best presenters also understand why they were invited to address the audience. Presenting to customers, for instance, requires a very different approach than speaking to an industry-association audience of peers.

2. Deliver the engaging and the unexpected. The planning process for every presentation includes considering how to engage the audience. The best speakers make their presentations thought-provoking, inspiring, even memorable.

Tools are great ways to engage and surprise an audience: a video that helps make a point, a question that encourages the audience to contemplate an answer, a prop that helps illustrate a concept.
The important decision is determining which medium is best to deliver the message and which suits the speaker's personal style. Some people can tell a story using only brief notes. Others work best with presentation slides—which should always be easy to read and understand—fewer words and simple visuals are good rules to live by.

Photo of Dave Olson by Kris Krug @KK
3. Is there a story to tell? One of the best tools is a story—an interesting personal experience that allows the speaker to lead into the topic, a case study that shows how someone or some company was successful, or a parallel situation from history that takes an incident from a completely different time and place and ties it to the situation at hand.

Good storytellers generally make the best speakers because they understand how to build the story, how to intrigue the audience, and how to deliver the payoff.

Dave Olson @SXSW by Kris Krug @KK
4. Be audience-appropriate. When presenting to an association audience, I once used a horror-movie clip that showed an unsuspecting man opening the door to a serial murderer. The tongue-in-cheek point was that if a company opens the door to customer feedback (particularly if customers are angry), it'd better be prepared for whatever feedback is provided.

The next week I did a different presentation on new computer technology. Needless to say, the same video would not have worked with that audience largely made up of radiologists LOL.