Oh the Humanity! A Simple Presentation Strategy to Keep Your Audience Awake

April 22, 2016

Growing up I had a football coach who used to tell me nothing was worse than “going through the motions.” If you’re going to run the play, run it as well as you can. If you’re going to lift that weight, do it like you mean it. Don’t waste your own time by just showing up and doing the bare minimum. Don’t go through the motions.

Recently I found myself in the audience of a small to mid-size corporate meeting. You know the drill: over-air conditioned hotel ballroom, about 75-100 people scattered around tables and chairs, a modest stage with a podium and an agenda of presenters to span the day. Executive leaders in a particular department were outlining their vision, new initiatives, research findings, how to adapt to an ever-changing global economy, reasons why they’re awesome, etc. Many were addressing their new colleagues for the first time.  

After an introductory speaker opened the morning, the first keynote presenter began her 45-minute presentation. Here we go. Within minutes, I had visions of Coach Fields: don’t go through the motions.

The entirety of the presentation was jam-packed with every competitive market projection, bi-lateral integration initiative, revenue model and strategic innovation taskforce that you could possibly think of. Every slide had enough text to constitute a short novel, and while her delivery was rehearsed and professional, she wasn’t making up any ground.

And I get it, I wasn’t the intended audience. The information itself is critical to the success of their business, and it’s relevant to the moment at hand.

BUT. This WAS her intended audience, and they were far from engaged. 


Just 20-minutes in, a quick scan of the room revealed a mixed bag of slouched postures, busy phone-occupied thumbs, and people feeling so generally uninspired that they were coming and going as if watching a movie at home that didn’t require their continuous attention. No questions. No real enthusiasm. Bare minimum engagement.

Why? Because she failed to capitalize on the universal characteristic of her audience: they’re HUMAN BEINGS. Truth be told, I believe that no one had much to follow up with her about because they barely remembered what she said.


You can use this presentation strategy and still rely on those critical pieces of data and research, but build them around a framework of relatable, authentic conversation to INFORM your audience while keeping them ENGAGED. Instead of wrapping up your slide with, “As you can see, if we can increase our savings on the supplier side by 7%, we’ll be in position to grab 15% more of the total market share.”

Say, “Honestly, here’s the deal. I know what many of you are thinking. Easier said than done right? This won’t be easy, but here’s how I think we can really make strides. We can increase our total market share by 15% if we do X, Y and Z.”

See the difference? It doesn’t take much, but even the slightest tweak in your approach can very effectively humanize you in your audience’s eyes. They want to like you, they want to relate to you. We all do, it’s one of our many unavoidable truths as human beings. So give them a reason to. Bring a little of yourself into your presentation. Relate to them where THEY’RE at, and not just in terms of org-chart and career track. What is your audience thinking? What keeps them up at night? Tell stories. Talk about people you’ve met who have inspired you. Talk about what and who you believe in.

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You can get your message across and get the right facts in front of them. But if you do so at the expense of talking to them like they’re robots, they won’t remember a thing. If you go through the motions of what you think a presentation should be, they’ll go through the motions of what an audience should do. But if you’re looking to really be remembered and make a lasting impact: BE HUMAN. It’s the one thing we actually all have in common.

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