When doing a presentation, what you are going to say (the content) is most important. Of course, as a presenter, you want your audience to focus on the important part of your message. It needs to stick in their memories so they can act on it if they want. Because presentations as a tool to get information across in a memorable way are not particularly effective (the retention rate is quite low), how you say things becomes just as important as the content of the presentation. To increase this retention rate, there are a number of presentation techniques that you could apply. They are:
- rhetorical questions
- dramatic contrast,
- machine gunning
Also, there are a number of ways to create rapport with your audience.
Rhetorical questions, when used well, do three things. First of all, they make your audience feel involved. Even though you are the one doing most of the talking, rhetorical questions invite your audience to think along with you while you are presenting. In this way your presentation comes across as a two-way conversation rather than a one-way monologue in which you tell your listeners what to think and to believe. Putting rhetorical questions into your presentation also creates anticipation. What you are really doing by asking the question is telling the audience what you are going to talk about next. You are giving them a glimpse into the future, so to speak, by asking a question and then answering it yourself. Because of that, you are allowing the audience to anticipate what’s coming. In this way, the structure of your presentation becomes more apparent to them.
So, let’s look at some examples:
As you know, many of our competitors have shown disappointing results last year. So, why haven’t we been able to capitalise on this?
Let’s say you are talking to a group of business executives. By asking the question of why they ‘haven’t been able to capitalize on this’, they will feel more involved because you are asking them to think along with you. Your talk will feel more conversational to them because they will be answering a question you asked them, even though it will only be in their heads instead of out loud. The rhetorical question will also allow the audience to anticipate what’s coming because they can assume that the question will be followed by an answer. So, so it will act as a structuring device.
The next example works in the same way:
Obviously, we won’t see the results of these lay-offs in the near future. So, how do we know they’ve been effective?
The question allows the listeners to think along. It creates the feeling of having a two-way conversation with the presenter, and it tells them what you are going to talk about next.
Emphasizing the connection between the rhetorical question and its answer is also a good way to add more structure to your talk. Like in this example:
So, how big ARE the consequences of this economic downturn going to be?
They are likely to be giGANtic.
Here, stress is put on the verb ARE in a question with an adjective in it. In this case the adjective is big. In the answer, a stronger, stressed adjective is then used to emphasize the connection between the question and the answer. This makes the structure of your talk better.
Rhetorical questions can also be made more powerful by repeating the important words from the question in the answer. Again, this shows the connection between the two. To do this effectively, you can first introduce the question with a statement in which you describe the situation. Then you ask the rhetorical question, and you follow up with the answer. This pattern makes the connections between what you have to say more powerful. As an illustration, let’s look at this example:
The fact is that our competitors made a take-over bid last week.
So, what can be done about this?
What can be done is keeping the share price high.
As you can see, the important words from the question are repeated in the answer. This creates a strong connection between the question and the answer and makes the structure of your talk clearer.
Dramatic contrast can be used to reinforce a point that is being made, like in these examples.
One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
A year ago,we were market leader. Today we are on the verge of going under.
Making a point using two strongly opposing ideas is a good way of attracting the attention of your audience.
To make what you say more memorable, your points can be divided up in threes. When it comes to providing your audience with arguments or reasons for believing something, number 3 is the ‘magic number’. This is because you can convince your listener in two ways: either you can give them a small number of arguments that they will be able to remember, or you can choose to give them a larger number of reasons for whatever it is you want to convince people of, and impress them with the quantity of reasons. However, this second option has the disadvantage that your audience will not be able to remember what all the reasons were. If you mention three, your audience will be able to do both; they will be impressed by the number of arguments you came up with, and they will be able to remember what these arguments were. This is why tripling is so effective. So, let’s look at some examples:
Our service is swift, efficient, and professional.
What’s needed now is time, effort, and money.
Machine gunning is similar to tripling in that you mention a number of points that should support the claim you are trying to make. However, contrary to tripling (for which it is important that the audience can remember the arguments you make), machine gunning aims just to impress people with the number of arguments you have, regardless of whether your audience is able to remember them, like in this example:
It is cheaper, newer, faster, bigger, clearer, safer AND better designed.
The effectiveness of this technique is in the delivery. The adjectives (in this case) should be delivered quickly, monotonously, and one after the other, so it sounds a bit like a machine gun being fired. If it is not delivered like that, the effect of the technique is lost.
After you’ve delivered your list of arguments, it is also a good idea to build in a short pause, and finish with a concluding remark. It could be something like this:
What more can I say!
The effect of this remark is that you are suggesting that there is nothing more to add, and that what you just said is the only logical conclusion.
A build-up is a technique in which you support your point by feeding your audience one argument at the time, like in this example:
As far as this contract in the Netherlands is concerned, we are pretty tied up with a lot of other projects at the moment.
So, there is no way we could meet their deadlines.
We have very little experience in this kind of work, anyway.
And, to be honest, they are not prepared to pay us what we want.
The idea behind this is that the people in the audience will put these arguments together and come to the logical conclusion that (in this case) the contract in the Netherlands is a bad idea. For extra effect, you then build in a short pause to let their conclusion sink in, add a summarizing filler, and then add a concluding remark that reinforces the conclusion the audience members have already reached on their own. You could say something like:
BASICALLY, it is out of the question.
The knock-down technique is very similar to the build-up in that it feeds the audience small bits of information one at a time to allow them to piece these bits together themselves to reach their own conclusion. However, what a knock-down does differently is that, instead of reinforce the conclusion, it contradicts it. You could say that a knock-down is a combination of a build-up and the dramatic contrast technique. Here’s an example:
Of course, the experts said that the tablet computer would never succeed.
They did market research that said people would just see it as a gimmick.
They said its memory capacity would be too limited for serious business users.
and they did a feasibility study that showed its touchpad would be too small for the fingers of a five-year-old.
Then, after your listeners have reached the conclusion that introducing a tablet computer was a terrible idea, you should counter that conclusion with a contrasting idea. It could be something like:
So, how come, it sold more than a million units in the first quarter?
Simplification is about the fact that, in most cases, the simpler what you say is, the more impact it will have. Normally, you would say something like this:
Should we be thinking of expansion? No, that would not be a good idea. Why wouldn’t it be? Well, that should be obvious. It’s much too risky.
However, if you want to leave your audience with a memorable conclusion of your talk, or you want to give them a quick and easy-to-digest summary of your main points, you could also say something like:
Expansion? Not a good idea. Why? Obvious. Too risky.
Please note, that the effectiveness of this technique lies in the contrast between how you normally speak and your simplified version. If you overuse simplification, your style of speaking will become awkward and choppy.
Creating rapport is not one technique, but a number of ways in which you can improve or maintain a good relationship with your audience. If you are able to this you will:
- Make your audience feel involved
- Make your talk more conversational
- Make your audience feel like individuals
The first way in which you can make your audience feel more involved is by talking from the ‘we’ perspective, and use ‘us’ and ‘our’. Like here:
Basically, we all share the same goal. And our goal is to create profit.
This gives the audience the impression that, instead of you telling them what to think, you want to solve the issue that you are presenting on together. You are suggesting to tackle a problem together with the people in the audience by putting yourself on the same level as them.
You can also use question tags to push for agreement, like in this example:
And we all know what that means, don’t we?
If you are a member of the audience, it takes less effort to think ‘Yes, we do’, than to think ‘No, you are wrong. We don’t’. In this way can maintain the relationship with the people that you are talking to while encouraging them to agree with you.
Using negative question forms in your talk works in a similar way. It helps to put the audience in the same mindset as you, like in this example:
Haven’t we all had similar experiences at one time or another?
Here also, it takes more effort for the audience to answer this with ‘yes, we have’ than with ‘No, we haven’t.’
Making your talk more conversational by using ‘fillers’, like you know, actually, etc., is also an effective way to build rapport between you and your audience. For example, you could these phrases:
You know, there are different ways to address this issue.
Actually, the third strategy turned out to be the most effective one.
As a matter of fact, we have come up with a number of innovative ideas.
You need to keep in mind that overuse of fillers tends to make your style less formal, and could affect your fluency negatively.
Finally, making your audience feel like individuals is also a good way to create rapport. You can do this by putting yourself on the same level as the people you are speaking to by implying that you and your audience are the same or share similar interests, like in the following examples:
If you were anything like me, you would take this opportunity.
And if I were to ask you to come up with some advice, what would it be?
Now, I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t we react to this sooner?
To conclude, the presentation techniques that were discussed will really help you to make your presentation more effective and memorable, so it will leave a lasting impression on your audience.