You want to connect with your audience, ensure your message is heard and get people on your side. You want to stand out. Whether you are talking to one person, a boardroom of executives or a conference of team leaders, the more memorable presentation is one that engages your audience from the outset and keeps them thinking.

Douglas Kruger, the only South African to hold five Southern African championships for public speaking titles, held a three-hour seminar on world-class presentation skills at GIBS in February 2020. As a certified speaking professional and an inductee into the Speakers Hall of Fame in honour of excellence, Kruger gave participants a complete toolkit on how to win over an audience and speak like a pro. 

Kruger covered a lot of ground, delving into body language and how to create great slides, to dealing with nerves and getting people to respond to you and your message. In the midst of all that information, he expertly demonstrated how to deliver a compelling presentation.

Talking the talk

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Kruger stressed the importance of drawing an audience in with a strong start, then holding their attention throughout the body of the address and, finally, making it truly memorable with a powerful finish.

But, he said, before you even sit down in front of PowerPoint to design your presentation, you need to determine the message you want to leave your audience pondering. This core message must be clear and precise. Kruger cited world champion public speaker David Brooks, who once said that, ideally, you should be able to write your message on the back of a business card. Only once you are clear about the point you are making should you start crafting your presentation. 

The strong start

So where do you start? Certainly not with a soft or rambling introduction. You begin by framing the issue at hand from the get-go and guiding the audience clearly and expertly through your line of thinking. Here are Kruger’s tips:

- Ask a question. “What is the biggest threat to your business right now?” is a great example.
- Opt for a good quote. Sure, it may be a little old-fashioned, but this approach can be effective.
- Deliver a dramatic or provocative statement. Don’t worry, your claim doesn’t have to be true; it just needs to grab attention. For example, “In three years we will be bankrupt. But, if we do these five things, we can turn things around.”
- Launch into a story or into your presentation. Only after you have your audience hooked do you introduce yourself, before continuing with your talk.
- Tell an audience-centred story. “Imagine you walk into a room, this is what happens to you, and this is what the outcome is for you.” Make it personal.
- You can paint a visual picture of the outcome starting with the punchline in mind.
- Play a game and mislead your audience, then circle back. You could achieve this by telling an anecdote that seemingly has nothing to do with your presentation and makes no sense but becomes relevant later when the key takeaway has been revealed.
- Get people talking and interacting. Create a vibe in the room by conducting an audience survey.

...ideally, you should be able to write your message on the back of a business card...

The art of the close

Your introduction must wow your audience, get them focused and paying attention, and intrigued by what comes next. Similarly, you need to close your presentation with equal flair. Kruger again offered some choice tips:

- Offer a benediction or blessing to your audience. This is easy to do on the fly and is very polite. Say something like, “My wish for you is…”
- Send out a call for action. Tell your audience what you want them to do next. This is perfect if you are making a sales pitch.
- End with a question. This is ideal if you are looking for behavioural change, for example you could try, “Now that you know this, how long before you make the change?”
- Tie your conclusion to the opening. This makes a presentation professional and polished. You simply reference your opening.
- After building a theme, why not ask the audience to repeat it back to you?
- Surprise with a little humour as you conclude.

A marvellous middle

A strong start and a professional finish are presentation essentials which Kruger delved into in depth, but then he got into the meat of the matter. How do you keep people listening throughout the bulk of your talk? For Kruger there are nine key tips to ensuring that you don’t lose your audience during the core of your speech.

1.     Customise your presentation to the audience; don’t use last week’s presentation on this week’s audience. The best presentations talk directly to their audience.

2.     Bring your points to life with stories. Without a storyteller approach to keep people engaged, your charts, graphs and bullet points will just put people to sleep.

3.     Be the guide, not the hero. “You want Gandalf not Frodo. Yoda not Luke,” said Kruger. Remember the presentation is about the audience, not the speaker!

4.     Make your audience the main character by framing questions that speak directly to each audience member and gets them thinking. “Imagine yourself three years from now, where do you want to be?” is a great one.

5.     Speak in questions. Consider using a slide with only a question? Kruger says this makes the audience think and launches a thought process.

6.     Make complex ideas understandable by using simple metaphors. Kruger recommends taking a difficult idea and making it picturesque through storytelling.

7.     Turn confusing data into mini mysteries. Kruger referenced the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, who give insights into how to get your stories to stick. One technique is to keep the audience guessing by framing your content in a mystery.

8.     Using A versus B is a great way to take an idea and contrast it with a logical opposition. For example, “Wealthy families approach wealth this way, while poor families approach wealth that way.”

9.     Use a memorable power phrase over and over again – remember former US president Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can!” motto and how that stuck? But do bear in mind that this technique works well with a speech designed to fire people up and might not be the right approach for a quiet boardroom presentation. 

Your introduction must wow your audience... 

Win over the elephant and the rider

Finally, Kruger offered some solace to the hapless presenter who may have stuck to all the rules, but just came face-to-face with an audience that wouldn’t connect. Why does this happen?

Kruger stressed that people are both emotional (the elephant) and intellectual (the rider). The reality is that you can only win over intellect and logic if you first connect with your audience’s emotions. “If they like you, then they will try to find the truth in your arguments,” Kruger explained. “However, if they don’t like you, they will work harder to disagree with you.”

It is a universal truth that the easiest way to get people to like you is to be authentic, said Kruger. You must be true to yourself. You cannot be a comedian if you are not inherently funny. You cannot be loud if you are softly spoken. And you cannot be relaxed and cool if you are an A-type personality. Kruger is neither loud, nor brash. He is not a comedian, nor does he deliver shock value. When he stands up in front of an audience, he is simply himself, and that’s what makes him a world-class speaker.


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