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Pep Up Your Presentations With Technology

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Audiences are no longer willing to sit quietly and listen to a speaker talk at them, no matter how good the information is. Technology can help engage the crowd and make their participation an integral part of your presentation.

“Audience engagement at presentations is past being a trend,” says Cheryl Cran, an author and a speaker in the field of integrating communications, technology, and human potential. "It’s what’s happening now."

Here are a few ways you can add some punch to your presentation.

Venues at most big organizations already are outfitted with interactive audience technology that enables a speaker to survey the audience and lets the audience indicate their reactions and responses to the presentation via wireless keypad or smartphone. Be sure to ask what technology is available to you, become familiar with it, and build its use into your presentation.

In addition to (or in lieu of) a high-end system, there also are plug-ins for PowerPoint (PowerPoint Twitter Tools) and Keynote (Keynote Tweet) that enable you to embed a Twitter feed into your presentation that enables the audience to react to the presentation in real time. Set up Tweetchat and provide everyone with a hashtag then watch the comments roll. Tweetchat also enables you (or an assistant) to curate tweets, so that you can control what appears on the screen.

Presentations should be highly polished and much more than a list of bullet points. Keynote offers a lot of flexibility in terms of templates and eases the process of incorporating multimedia elements, such as video and graphics. And there’s even an application for the iPhone that enables you to use it to advance your slides.

Before Cheryl goes on stage, she often mingles with attendees, a small video camera close at hand. (She recommends a Kodak HD, which has a powerful onboard microphone.) Cheryl does video interviews with several attendees, polling them about what their issues are and what they’re hoping to get out of her session. She then uses those vignettes in her opening to set the stage and encourage engagement during the presentation. “Most people are happy to be filmed, but how much they’re willing to say does depend quite a bit on the culture,” says Cheryl. She suggests that learn about the organization you’re slated to speak to before you get to the venue, so you have a sense of what will fly.

Some of her colleagues run their presentations from an iPad and that it’s definitely an option. Doing this, however, requires you to upload the presentation to iDisk. To ensure you can get to the presentation when the time comes, make sure you have a 3G-enabled device---because if there is no Internet at the venue or the signal is poor, you won't have a presentation!

It’s not all about the gadgets, however. Cheryl emphasizes, “You can have the coolest technology around but if you’re not prepared, nothing will save you. Competition for speaking slots is fierce. Conference directors expect you to do your homework and to fully customize your presentations for their audiences. Customization has become the standard---even for celebrity speakers.”

The good news is you can use technology to get ready as well. As she studies each organization, Cheryl often sends out short web-based surveys using Survey Monkey to test for perceptions and expectations.

With audience attention spans averaging around nine seconds, speakers who want their messages to connect need to involve their audiences in the process. The right technology can enable audiences to provide added dimension to your presentation, create synergy, and increase the impact of your presentation.

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Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications ( Reach her via or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).

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  • by Kent Accountants Wed Sep 7, 2011 via blog


    Steve Jobs and plenty of others are of the 'less is more' view with presentations and I agree.

    A presentation should be exactly that - a presentation by a real person about something they are passionate about.

    Too much technology gets the audience focusing on that rather than the presenter - which means you may as well have posted it to Youtube and asked for comments.

  • by Helena Bouchez Wed Sep 7, 2011 via blog

    I think it depends on the presentation design, actually. I've seen some really dynamic and informative presentations with integrated Twitter streams that spark questions that the presenter is challenged to answer extemporaneously. To pull it off requires the presenter to be extremely well prepared and to have a very deep command of the topic.

    The object of incorporating these things is to make the presentation more dynamic, not more passive. If people just have it running in the background and haven't figured out how to pull it into the experience, then um no, they should definitely not use these options. Thanks for your comment.

  • by Peter Williams Wed Sep 7, 2011 via blog

    It is always useful to get other people's take on presenting. Thank you
    As a professional lecturer i agree that adapting to the audience is most important. Many people are visual learners so having an illustration [visual or virtual - verbally constructed] to support a point, makes things memorable. Preparation is key - knowing what yoiu want to say - and having a plan that allows for spontaneous interaction but keeps the pathway to the conclusion clear.
    Sometimes people remember the technology long after the content is forgotten, so getting the match takes practice!!

  • by Grace Wed Sep 7, 2011 via blog

    I completely agree; I was thinking the same thing as I was reading this. The very first sentence of this article set up a false premise I just could not buy into. If the goal is to get people to pay attention ("sit quietly") why would distracting live Tweets be the answer? The answer is probably to bone up on your public speaking skills. No amount of technology will help if you don't have that.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Sep 7, 2011 via blog

    Helena, thanks for this column, some good nuggets in here. However, I must be a luddite for not wanting to incorporate twitter feeds into my presentation. I think it distracts, and gets people on their smartphone and then dawdling on Facebook/Angry Birds...thus not concentrating on the presentation at hand. I'd go with a shorter, punchier, more interactive presentation any day. When it comes to attention spans, most people think they can multi-task quite well, the truth of the matter is 99% of the time we cannot.

  • by Helena Bouchez Thu Sep 8, 2011 via blog

    Peter, yes, it is definitely a balance. And the younger the audience is, the wider variety of stimulus you need to keep them engaged. Better they engage with your 5 threads that all reinforce your content than having them check out on FB chat with their friends miles away from the presentation!

  • by Helena Bouchez Thu Sep 8, 2011 via blog

    Paul, Agreed. All the research says that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, or doing more than one thing at one time. It's impossible. Basically, people do nine seconds of one thing, then nine seconds of another, in succession. What the technology does is enable you to make sure the nine second bites are all related, and people walk away with some learning, even if it's taken in in increments.

  • by Jen St. Onge Mon Sep 12, 2011 via blog

    Interesting article. I like the idea of videotaping and using snippets, though I rarely encounter a need for that. It sounds way simpler than I expected. I wish there was a link to an article describing the process used.

    I am a technology nut; however, I saw a presentation done once that was two slides long, each slide contained one or two words. The presentation was 1.5 hours and one of the best I'd ever seen. This was pre-smartphone, though. Still, charisma and delivery trump technology any day!

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Sep 12, 2011 via blog

    Great idea to interview participants with a handheld videocam. And I love my Kodak, too. One question. If I want to be able to walk the room and control the slides remotely using a tablet, can I do that with Android OS, too? Is there a software program designed for that? Thanks.

  • by Helena Bouchez Tue Sep 13, 2011 via blog

    Hi Elaine,
    There are a bunch. Here's just one that looked decent. They all are getting sort of ho hum reviews, so the apps might not quite be there yet. But worth a try.
    There are also other options in recommended apps. Let us know what happens! HB

  • by Kent Accountants Thu Sep 15, 2011 via blog

    Hmmm, still not convinced.

    Dazzle with brilliance or baffle with b......

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