Break Down the Wall – 5 Tips to Transform Presentations into Conversations


If you’re in sales or marketing, leading presentations is part of your daily routine. You’re on the proverbial stage constantly, sometimes presenting completely disparate concepts to vastly different clients, back to back. This is especially true for us in the creative business. We’re often faced with the challenge of presenting concepts that, if adopted, could create major cultural shifts within an organization. Sometimes “change” can be the toughest message to present.

Have you ever found yourself in the following situation? You’ve just passionately presented a long slide deck, walking through all of the technicalities and details slide-by-slide. At the end, your guest states something to the effect of, “great presentation, I get what you’re presenting, I hear what you’re saying and you made a great case.” Sounds like a good reaction, right? Really, this is the worst kind of response. The underlying message of the comment could be restated, “good performance, I hear you talking at me.” The response isn’t particularly negative, but it shows that the presentation didn’t break down the barrier between audience and speaker.

The best presentations are conversations. They’re participatory dialogues between two parties that both care about the content on the table. The end result is that everyone in the room leaves with a shared understanding and purpose, and the wall between presenter and audience is eliminated. Here are a few tips to turn presentations into conversations.

1. Start Small

Any presentation, whether it’s a new business pitch or a website design review, will be so much more effective if the presenter and audience can form a personal relationship. I’m not suggesting that you become best friends forever, but there needs to be some clear common ground. Small talk of a personal nature can open the door. What happened to you on the drive over? When is this weather going to end? How great is your son’s baseball team? Feel out your audience and share something personal to make a direct connection. Always listen intently to the response.

2. Take a Breath

So you’ve got a lot of ground to cover? Reel it back. Structure your interactive presentation with transition slides to serve as punctuation to central ideas. These slides can function as section dividers, and should feature minimal, if any content, and muted color or graphics. The purpose of breather slides is to help avoid glazes-gaze screen staring that can result from rapid-fire info barrage. Use divider slides to draw the audience’s focus back to the presenter, the person, rather than the content on screen.

3. Ask Questions

“Please hold your questions until the end.” We’ve all said it, and it’s simply bad news. As presenters, sometimes we speak to audiences assuming they are subject matter experts. Asking questions spontaneously is the best way to gauge your audience’s comprehension of the material you’re presenting. I’m not suggesting that you put anyone on the spot with a pop quiz, but make eye contact and ask questions that connect your subject matter to the audience’s personal or business goals. Pause for feedback and make sure everyone in the room understands the terminology at hand.

4. Get Moving

The worst way to lose the room is to sit still. If you’re a stationary talking head, or a pillar standing next to the screen, you’re just as likely to be considered part of the conference room furniture. Accentuate your message by moving along with the rhythm of your presentation. If you’re in the board room, and you have the opportunity to stand, then stand! Rise to the occasion as you reach critical information. Point out details on screen, and invite your audience to do the same. When you and your audience member are at the screen together, you’ve smashed the barrier.

5. Bring it Home

In jazz, it’s the lead line, the melody you introduced early on (more on that subject here). Always close with a return to where you began. After you’ve led your audience on a participatory journey from one way of thinking to another, reiterate the connections that got you there. It’s an essential step that can ensure everyone in the room is on the same page.

Break down the wall, and make it personal.

Next time you’re giving an introductory pitch, or sharing your ideas for the next creative campaign, make it personal. Ask questions, and get the audience involved throughout the presentation. You’ll go from talking at your audience, to speaking with them in no time.

About Punch

Punch Digital Strategies is a creative agency for bold brands. We provide digital marketing strategy that owns the field. We design websites that inspire devotion, and we write content that instigates action. At Punch we help companies brand for growth. We help business engage with customers online, and manage clients’ online reputation through content marketing and social media. With services tailored to meet the needs of start-ups, B2C, B2B and non-profit organizations, we make bold brands stand out.

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