What makes a great presentation? First, here is a question. If you want to compare the making of a presentation with another artistic activity, what would be the closest? Hint: Is it report writing, drawing, movie making? How about the similarity to making documentaries? Making a presentation is very similar to making a documentary.

Why is this?

A documentary has a main message. There is a lot of media that you need to put together to support that message. You have a goal and you want to convince your viewers of your message or get them to see something they haven’t seen before.

Similarly you can borrow from the movie industry; include actions, suspense, curiosity and engage them with exciting content, humour and so on. It is important to notice that whatever making a presentation is about, it is not about converting a report into some other format and feeding it to the audience. A presentation is not a report summary.

A presentation is like a big story that you unfold as you go on. Of course, you can also include mini-stories during your presentation to support your message. Whatever type you use, these stories must have certain qualities to be engaging.

The story should be easy to grasp, understand and communicate with others. Imagine if you tell a mini-story to extend a particular topic, but that story lasts a long time or that it has so much detail that you effectively go off-topic. The audience will be wondering what you are up to.

What happens if the story doesn’t have a conclusion?

It’s a waste of time. People wouldn’t understand what you are getting at. Don’t leave it to the audience to guess what you want from them. Go ahead and ask. Tell them exactly what you want, explain your core message and what you expect from them. As the saying is, don’t expect your audience to think. You must do all the thinking.

How about credibility of your message? What happens if you don’t sound credible?

People will quickly lose interest in something that doesn’t sound credible. Conspiracy theories are a prime example. If your message is that I have met an alien, many people may lose interest in your message there and then and might think that listening to you (beyond a curiosity) is just a waste of time. Of course this is not to say the alien-lovers are at fault. It’s just that if your idea doesn’t have much credibility or you don’t have much ‘evidence’ then you won’t move forward in your presentation as smoothly as you like.

What’s the effect of a surprise story or something unexpected?

As long as the unexpectedness is not bad it is a great way to keep the attention of the audience. Of course you don’t want to shock them. You can use unorthodox methods of presentation. For example, a brain surgeon brought a ‘real brain’ to a presentation about her brain stroke experience! That certainly got the attention of the audience!

How about appealing to emotions?

As explained earlier, make the stories emotional so that they are received more enthusiastically and remembered for much longer. Emotions such as laughter, sadness, anger, jealousy and so on can all be effective if used in the right context and of course in moderation.

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