How To Captivate Any Audience
Three strategies to help you stand out next time you present.
Woman with blonde hair doing a presentation to a large audience
Odds are, if you work in an office, you’ve suffered through your fair share of truly awful PowerPoint presentations. There’s always that guy whose voice is so monotone he could easily cure insomnia (Anyone? Anyone?), the woman who reads every bullet point on every slide as it appears (does she not know we can also read?), and the one who races through their stat-filled PowerPoint presentation so quickly you feel a little dizzy.


Now think about those presentations that were so engaging you almost didn’t want them to end. We’ll bet you all the shoes in Chanel that they each contained a storyline that ebbed and flowed, simultaneously educating, entertaining and moving you. That, dear friend, is the beauty of storytelling.


You see our brains are wired for story. Always have been. Back in the good old days ’round the campfire (not when you were a kid, but before Jesus was a child), storytelling was the way we communicated. We think in narrative and love consuming content in story form because it helps us relate to each other and build community. We also remember stories more easily. According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, stories (which are facts wrapped up in context and delivered with emotion), are 20 times more memorable than facts alone.


Understanding the difference between presenting and storytelling is an essential part of a leader’s ability to engage an audience and motivate them to act. Here are some strategies to help you stand out next time you present.


1. Begin Your Presentation On Paper, Not PowerPoint

Expert speakers don’t open the slideware first. Instead, they carefully storyboard, script and design, like a writer begins a book, or a director prepares a film for the big screen. Start by writing down your idea – not bullet points, but full sentences as if you were telling someone a story. Then visualise each of your main concepts by sketching ideas on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper. Finally, collate any assets that will bring your story to life: videos, animations, graphics, or photos.


2. Ditch The Text For The Pics

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and it’s absolutely true. Researchers have found that your audience will remember about 10% of the content if they simply hear information. But the “picture superiority effect” means that if they hear information and see a picture, they’ll retain 65%. A combination of images and words improves learning much more than words can do on their own. And again, skip the bullet points. In the words of Seth Godin, “The minute you put bullet points on the screen, you are announcing ‘write this down, but don’t really pay attention to it now’. People don’t take notes at the opera.”


3. Surprise and Delight

The human brain pays attention to novelty and perks up when we detect something that breaks a pattern. Take, for example, a now-famous presentation by Bill Gates in 2009. While giving a presentation about malaria, Gates said: “Now, malaria is, of course, transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here just so you could experience this.” He then walked out to the centre of the stage and opened the lid from a small jar containing non-infected mosquitoes. “We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit.”


This moment was so successful in capturing his audience because it surprised them with an immersive experience that played on their emotions. If you can, plan to surprise your audience with something they don’t expect. With these tips, it might even just be the fact that you captivate them.


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