What Makes A Presentation Compelling?

What do you understand a compelling presentation to be? What makes it compelling? What is it about a presentation that makes you want to stay and keep hearing more? We look here at some key tips that contribute to ensuring all your presentations are as compelling as they can be, so that your audience leaves with the thoughts you want them to have.

There are various issues you need to think about when presenting and we’ve looked at some in past posts, plus more will come in the future. Here are a few useful tips to keep us going for now.

Tell A Story
The first thing to bear in mind is that your presentation needs to tell a story. Your audience doesn’t want to sit through a delivery that resembles a shipping forecast! Facts and figures are needed but the real trick is to lead your audience along a journey. Ideas and stories are interesting to us, as humans, but facts and figures, which are not connected to emotions, images or themes, tend to bore us if they’re the main feature of a presentation. Stories, or journeys, are interesting and engaging because they allow people to visualise scenarios and imagine themselves in them, thereby relating your presentation to their own experiences, challenges, interests and goals.

We work with clients to ensure that the problems evident in many people’s presentations aren’t evident in our clients’, but we can’t help anyone to create a killer presentation unless they already have a central theme or some form of basic message that they want to get across. If there’s a central theme, then you’ll stand a high chance of delivering a presentation that people will enjoy watching. Conceptualising and framing the story you’re going to tell is possibly the most important part of your preparation.

To be engaging, it’s important to very quickly introduce your topic, explaining why you’re passionate about it and convincing your audience that they should be, too. The longer the introduction and build-up, the more chance you have of turning people off. Also, remember that a presentation covering numerous subjects in little detail might be viewed as somewhat thin and lacking depth, so focussing in more detail on specific important issues of interest to your audience will enable you to deliver a presentation that hits key buttons and elaborates on how your skills, experience, etc are going to make a difference.

Any audience wants to know how the presentation to which they’re listening is going to add something that will make a difference to them. Your story (or journey – call it what you will) needs to show how you’re making a difference and adding value. Presentations have often fallen flat because the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, didn’t correctly establish the audience’s level of interest or didn’t tell a story.

Even if your subject matter is important and relevant to your audience, general statements of information about the subject, without narrative or framing in terms of a story, are usually not engaging. There won’t be any progression in that case and your audience won’t feel that they’re moving forward. This is a main reason why presentations by businesses bidding to win work, in which the presentation focusses on the business and its attributes, tend to be less successful than presentations focussing on the client’s challenges and how the bidding business will lead the client on a journey towards solving their problems. The former is facts-based, while the latter is story-based.

Know Your Audience
Do you know how much your audience already knows about your subject matter? It’s important to know this because, if you base your presentation on the assumption that people will be interested or that they already know a lot, then you’ll disengage the audience if you go into a lot of detail or if you use technical language. Time spent doing some audience research before you deliver your presentation is always time well invested, both to determine people’s levels of interest and also to establish their existing levels of familiarity with your subject.

How Will You Deliver Your Presentation?
There are various ways you can deliver your presentation on the day, such as:

• Reading it from notes or a teleprompter
• Using cue cards
• Rehearsing it word-for-word
• Remembering just the key points and talking about them
• Asking the audience questions and using the answers as the delivery

If you want to secure your audience’s buy-in and deliver an engaging presentation, which should always be your objective, then reading it won’t be effective. People generally don’t like to know that they’re being read to, unless it’s obvious you’re reading a quote or referring to some other specific source. Rehearsing a presentation word-for-word is unrealistic because you’re most unlikely to deliver it exactly as you practised, unless you’ve had the time to practise it so many times that you can’t fail, which is a luxury that the pressure of work rarely allows.

In our experience of our own presentations and of working with clients, the best way, by far, is to remember just the key points and talk about them. You don’t need to remember the exact words you’ll use to deliver your messages about the key points because they’ll flow naturally on the day. Remember, all this presentation advice is based on your being passionate about your subject and on your knowing your material. If that’s the case, then you don’t need to worry about verbatim delivery. If you do want prompts, use cue cards with selected key words to remind you of the main points. Again, don’t try to rehearse word-for-word.

Be Loud and Proud
When you’ve sorted out your story, investigated your audience and worked out how best to deliver your presentation, you can focus on making an impact personally on the day. This is where the vital issue of body language comes into play.

We work with clients to develop their presence when presenting, which generates increased confidence and command of the audience’s attention. Your body language and your voice control both have a profound impact on your audience’s buy-in to your message.

On body language, we’re reminded of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” How apt! Your body language makes up at least 55% of your communication, so it has to be used well. One of the biggest mistakes we see is people moving their bodies too much, swaying from side to side or shifting weight from one leg to the other. We do this naturally when we’re nervous but it’s distracting and, as presenters, it makes us appear weak. The opposite, whereby people don’t move enough, is just as damaging for building rapport and having a presence because it creates the impression that you’re not engaged and ‘alive’ in your subject.

Having said all that about how to control your body movement, perhaps the most important physical sign of an engaged speaker, and one who engages his audience, is eye contact. All you have to do is scan the audience and look at a number of people in turn, which will demonstrate that you’re addressing them all as individuals and not just as a group. Eye contact is a really powerful way of helping to make sure that your delivery resonates and makes an impact on people.

These have been just a few areas of importance that need to be considered when presenting and we’ll look at plenty more in the future. If you fancy perusing past topics about which we’ve shared useful insights, check out our other blog posts.

To discuss any of these issues, contact us for a review of your presentation requirements.


  • Holger
    All good points.
    There is also charisma , which surprisingly there is an equation

    Ch = (i + b + c + e + s) p

    I= Identity (Know who you are) – In other words believe you are an expert with value to give

    B = Belief (Be true to yourself) – charismatic people talk about things that they believe to be true. Don’t try and ‘fake it’ as people will generally see right through that

    C = Communication skills – the better your communication skills such a s voice , structure the better

    E = Emotion (Passion) – charismatic people have passion. This does not mean going overboard but if you are presenting you are not trying to be a poker player (hiding your emotions). Let the real you shine through

    S = Space – be comfortable in your own skin. Own your stage or space (be it a large stage or standing on the spot). Your body language will betray you if you are not confident in your own skin

    P = Practice – the more you practice the above the more charismatic you will be to others that you present to

  • Tony

    Thanks for your formula, which I think sums things up very nicely! I’ve not seen that before but it makes total sense to me. The point about body language is so important. We can come across as less than the real deal if our words and bodies say different things. I call it, “Stand and Deliver: Let Your Body Talk”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *