Engage your audience: tips to create presentations that connect

Martha Weeks

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As a speaker, you can engage with your audience when you are presenting by making eye contact, varying the tone and volume of your voice, and moving across the stage or room. You can also build connection into your presentation content. The tips below will help you connect with more audiences, so they are more receptive to your messages.

Make it a conversation, not a speech. Include some - or all - of the following in your presentations.

- Tell a story. Everybody loves a story, and they help illustrate points and make them stick.

- Share a fact or statistic, especially a surprising one. Include data and stories to appeal to the rational and emotional sides of people.

- Sprinkle questions throughout. Get people to raise their hands to respond and acknowledge their response: "I see about half of you have heard of this before..." Rhetorical questions work, too.

- Ask people to remember or imagine something. Take them with you.

- Provide an analogy or example. Help people relate.

Focus where it matters most. Your first and final words are most important. They affect the initial impression you make, and the one you leave.

- Opening: Consider a more compelling opening than, "Hi, my name is X and I am going to talk about Y." Start with a story, question or startling fact. Also, establish your credibility. Why should the audience listen to YOU?

- Closing: Like any good salesperson, close the order. The closing gives you a chance to summarize your message and inspire action. The action relates to the original intent you set for your presentation: what do you want people to do, think, feel or believe? The audience will be more likely to take that action if you reinforce it at the end.

To reach people's hearts, speak from yours. The best way to ignite an audience is to talk about what you care about. When a speaker's eyes, voice and body light up, the excitement is contagious. Share your passions.

The next time you present, use all the tools you have to create connection with your audience - from your body language and eye contact to including "built in connection points" in your presentation content. Your audience will thank you, and you will make more of an impact.

Martha has run her own marketing consulting firm since 1993, providing services to Fortune 100 firms such as HP, Intuit, and Salesforce, and numerous start-up companies. She also works as a communications coach and guest lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she has coached TED talks and dozens of inspirational speeches.

Martha earned an MBA from the University of California-Berkeley. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.