10 Life Preservers To Save A Drowning Presentation

My friend, Phil Gerbyshak, tweeted the link to a great presentation given by David Meerman Scott. Besides the fact that Scott offers some thought-provoking commentary on marketing in the “now,” he knocks the ball out of the park as a presenter. While I was watching the presentation, I kept thinking to myself, “this guy is smooth like butter.”

I want to be a better presenter. I work hard at learning what my idiosyncrasies are as a communicator, working to correct them. I record myself presenting and then evaluate the recording.

I once heard a speaker open his talk by stating the obvious. He said,

I know that I’ve got three minutes to connect with you or else you’ll tune me out and you won’t listen to what I have to say.

If you’ve spent any time considering what it takes to communicate and connect with people, you realize that there is some truth to what he’s saying.

You can practice and hone and improve. Yet sometimes you just aren’t able to connect with an audience for one reason or another. You scan the audience and begin to see people checking out. At this point, you can’t rewind the film and evaluate. You just dove into your presentation and now you’re starting to drown.

Should you just stop and refund everyone’s money? Not yet.

There are some presentation life preservers a person can use to bring the crowd back around. If you find yourself putting a lot of energy into a presentation that is sinking…you might want to give one of these a try.

LIFE PRESERVER #1. TELL A STORY
People are narrative by nature. We’re all drawn into a well-told story. Even if the story has nothing to do with what you’re talking about, it can get your crowd interested again.

LIFE PRESERVER #2. MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH
When people begin to get bored or find your presentation irrelevant they begin to put up walls. When people laugh, walls come down. A person can be humorous without being a comedian. Sometimes, if you’re willing to laugh at yourself in front of others, they’ll begin to respect you as a real and genuine person. If they can relate to you, they’ll begin to connect with you.

LIFE PRESERVER #3. ENGAGE / INTERACT WITH ONE OR TWO PEOPLE IN THE CROWD
If you’re losing the whole crowd, then focus in on one or two people. Find out their names. Ask them where they’re from. People will be curious about the interaction and want to watch…and listen.

LIFE PRESERVER #4. SHOCK THEM
There’s a fine line with this idea. In fact, I think you can only use it once during a presentation. Shock people more than once and they’ll start to get offended. When people disconnect, they do so because they don’t feel like you have anything they want or need to hear. Perhaps a better word is surprise. Think about what you could do that is completely unexpected.

LIFE PRESERVER #5. MOVE CLOSER
If you are on a stage, get off of it and move amongst the people. If you are at the front of a room, move to the side. I like to call this “conversation distance.” Get as close as you would if you were carrying on a conversation with a few of the people closest to you.

LIFE PRESERVER #6. END EARLY
I will often ask people how long I have to speak when I go somewhere to present. I always strive to end a bit before the amount of time they give me. If you are struggling in your presentation, it may be the best move to simply end things early rather than stretch it out to your allotted time. I’ve never heard anyone complain because a sermon or speech was too short.

LIFE PRESERVER #7. START OVER
If you have blown your beginning, your opening lines fell flat, and you don’t seem to be connecting, then simply start over. Tell your audience that you’d like to try the whole thing again. In fact, leave and come out again. You may not want to repeat your opening word for word, but people will be more intrigued by the theatrics of you attempting to start the whole thing over again.

LIFE PRESERVER #8. ACKNOWLEDGE IT
Nobody is perfect. At some point, you may want to simply acknowledge that you’re not connecting. It won’t be new information for the audience, but it may get them back in your corner because of your blatant humility.

LIFE PRESERVER #9. SILENCE
This is one of my favorite ones. Sometimes, I may feel like the crowd isn’t quite with me. So I’ll just stop and smile. People often tune out because they become accustomed to the cadence of my voice. Stopping breaks the rhythm. Silence makes people curious.

LIFE PRESERVER #10. LEARN FROM IT
If you can’t connect with your audience and your presentation falls flat you need to know why. If you think it’s a “them” problem, you won’t learn anything from it. Ask for feedback. Videotape yourself. Get someone to be honest with you.

If you speak enough times, you will have a presentation that doesn’t go the way you hoped it would. The best thing we can do is to learn from it. Part of every presentation I give involves reflection and honing. I will make notes about what worked and what didn’t. There will always be places for improvement.

ONE MORE THING…
If you use one of these techniques to save a sinking presentation, you typically won’t get a second chance during that presentation if you lose the audience again. The best preparation is to have a great presentation and to be a great presenter (like David Meerman Scott!). But it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

Have you ever used one of these life preservers while giving a presentation? How else have you saved a drowning presentation?

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