Have this ever happened to you? You’re presenting a deck of slides to a client, potential partner, or even a colleague… and you can tell your message is falling flat. For whatever reason, the connection you’re trying to establish with your audience just won’t take.

Let’s face it: we’ve all been there, and it’s not a good feeling. And, truth be told, sometimes there’s nothing you can do to right the ship. However, here are a few tips to keep in mind next time you’re preparing a pitch that may help you avoid the dreaded stalled-presentation-point-of-no-return:

1. Be prepared. This may sound obvious, but I’ve sat in on plenty of presentations where the presenter didn’t know how to explain his slide material cleanly, or seemed surprised by each slide’s content as he clicked through the deck. This is problematic on two levels: your audience can tell you’re unsure about what you’re presenting (which detracts from your credibility), and they’re insulted that you didn’t devote enough time to prepare and, as a direct result, are now using their time ineffectively. To avoid this, take five minutes to review your slides before you present, even if you present the same deck every day. That will get you in “presentation mode”, and reduce the chances that you’ll get flustered by your slides’ content.

2. Start off with questions, not statements. When I worked in sales, I tried to start every presentation with a few questions about the other party’s goals, habits, needs and pain points. This helped me customize my presentation to the situation, and avoid irrelevant content. This approach had two major benefits: it kept my audience engaged (since I was focusing on content I knew would be at least tangentially relevant to their business), and it kept me from wasting time discussing products or topics that I knew by then weren’t germane to my audience.

3. Be ready to go rogue. In starting your presentation with questions, you may find that what you PLANNED to present is off the mark and not relevant to what your audience wants/needs to know. In these situations, don’t just plow forward with content you know won’t be a fit (no matter how much time you spent putting it together in advance!). Rather, be ready to speak off the cuff, brainstorm with the other party, and change your “presentation path” to line up with what’s relevant to your audience. This may mean your 60 minute slideshow gets scrapped in favor of a 20 minute Q&A… and that’s ok! If the 20 minute Q&A is more useful to the audience than your initial plan, both sides will benefit from the change in course.

4. Interact. It’s easy for audiences to tune out of presentations when they’re being “talked at” instead of “interacted with”. Make sure your presentations include opportunities for engagement, i.e., chances for you to ask your audience questions, provide examples related to their business, give feedback on the concepts you’re presenting, etc. This will keep your audience on their toes, and more locked in to the content you’re sharing.

5. Keep it high level. Sad but true: it’s likely that you are more interested in the minutia of what you’re presenting than your audience is. Though you may think a slide with 15 bullets detailing every element of your product or service is vital to share, odds are it’s probably not as engaging to your audience as it is to you. So, keep your slide design high level and easy to digest, and describe your key concepts succinctly and clearly. If your audience can focus on and understand the basics of the concepts you’re sharing, they will question you on the details, giving you a chance to show what you know. However, if you bombard them with too much information up front, odds are they will be too confused by bullet #15 to fully grasp your concept, much less relate it to their business.

6. Let your personality show. The more engaging your audience finds you personally, the better off you’ll be. If you sound bored, or like a recording that’s given the same sales presentation fifty times in a row, your audience will pick up on that (and not in a good way). Make sure you’re engaged with what you’re presenting, and don’t be afraid to break up your presentation with a handful of personal asides. Don’t go overboard, of course, but do feel comfortable ‘customizing’ the presentation with a relevant anecdote or two – this demonstrates to your audience that they’re not getting a ‘stock’ pitch (and will help them remember you – and your pitch! – down the road).

Like what you see from blog author Emily Huddell? Follow her on twitter at @emhuddell.

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