A presentation implies that you have a serious amount of content to impart at once to your audience. If not, you’re just having a meeting or a discussion. But you can structure your presentation as a conversation in many ways.
Why have a conversation?
First of all, why have a conversation at all? There are several answers:
- You get feedback from the audience: Did they understand? Are they interested? Do they want to go in a different direction? Do they have an objection? Do they disagree? This feedback is very useful, whether you are selling a product, a service, or an idea.
- The audience buys into your message because members become part of it
- You show respect for the audience’s point of view. As a result, the audience is more likely to accept what you’re saying.
- You can gather important information from the audience, such as their names and contact information, their concerns, their level of experience, and so on.
Maybe you can think of other reasons.
The most common way to have a conversation with the audience is to have a Question & Answer session at the end. Even this simple technique is very useful. A question that one member asks may be lurking in the minds of others, so your answer is useful to many. At this time, you can resolve doubts, clarify misunderstandings, and so on. The advantage is that you have control over most of the presentation.
Give them free rein
Another option is to let audience members ask questions throughout the presentation. This method allows you to resolve doubts and misunderstandings immediately so audience members can be with you for the rest of the presentation. Often, some problem arises in someone’s mind and the he or she practically doesn’t hear the rest of what you say because the problem takes precendence.
(Have you noticed that some people don’t listen very well? One reason is that they immediately think of how they will respond to you and then focus on their concerns, rather than on you.)
Also, you may get immediate feedback so that you avoid going in a non-fruitful direction, get a chance to include points that people want to hear, and discover if you are speaking over or beneath their expertise.
On the other hand, taking questions throughout can disturb the flow of ideas that you planned. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it isn’t. Other audience members may feel that the presentation is being interrupted and become impatient.
Give a little, take a little
A third alternative is a blend of the previous two. You can present some ideas at the start of your presentation, get some questions and feedback, and then use that feedback to adjust the rest of your presentation. Finally, you can hold a Q&A session. Because you started a conversation at the beginning, audience members should feel more free to simply listen.
Consider the situation
The technique you choose depends on the situation; there is no one right way to go. The size of the audience is a simple parameter that should affect your choice. With a large audience, it may be unwieldy to take questions throughout and a few people may dominate the floor. With a small audience, an ongoing conversation throughout may work better. If you’re selling a product or service, you certainly want to allow your audience to voice concerns, ideas, and directions.
Allow the presentation to branch out
You can set up a presentation that allows you to respond to audience feedback. This is sometimes called a non-linear presentation. You can hyperlinks to allow you go quickly go anywhere in the presentation, to other presentations, or even to Web sites. If someone says, “But how do your copiers interface with our database?” you can click a link and say, “That’s a good question, I have some information on that here.” See the, “Designing a Web-style presentation” link below for one method to do this. The Custom Shows feature is another method. In this way, you can make your presentation more of a conversation than a 1-way show.
Use quiz and feedback techniques
You can incorporate feedback mechanisms into PowerPoint that will work even with a self-running presentation. Quizzes in PowerPoint let viewers respond to the presentation, whether by answering questions on the content. See the “Easily create a quiz in PowerPoint using Visual Basic for Applications” link below.
Finally, you can collect information (name and e-mail address, for example) or get feedback from people who view a PowerPoint presentation on their own. (Did they like it? Was it useful?) See the “Collect information or feedback” link below.
People love a conversation
Start thinking of your presentations as conversations and use some of the techniques described here. Your audiences will appreciate it!