5 Presentation tips to connect with the toughest audience

audience in black and white

Most articles offering presentation tips and advice on public speaking tend not to focus on the particularly challenging ones; the tough audience.

Have you ever prepared for an important presentation in the full knowledge and anxiety that your audience may actually have far more experience than you do of the topic you are about to speak on?

If you have then you’ll know that it’s not only really daunting but it can leave you feeling quite vulnerable. Despite your extensive knowledge and passion you can’t help but feel that you’re about to be ‘found out’or that the world will finally see that you’re not quite as good as you think you are.

At Mindful Presenter we believe in leading by example which means that our presentation training courses are far more than workshops, they are presentations too.  In other words, we don’t just share theory we show you how to present by presenting ourselves which sometimes creates quite an interesting challenge.  As you may imagine, we could be leading a room full of delegates who have vastly more experience in terms of just the number of years they have been presenting than our own coaches have.

For some people that can be quite intimidating but it’s not for us.

Whether you’ve been presenting for 30 years, teaching for 30 years or laying bricks for 30 years, it may make you ‘experienced’ but it doesn’t make you the best or an expert.  In fact, it’s often the case that you may actually have been doing exactly the same thing in the same way every year for 30 years and there’s a far more effective way.

In our business we work with highly experienced presenters every day. When you ask them the one thing a good presenter should never do one of their top 3 answers is, ‘never read slides’. Yet, that’s exactly what many of them do themselves each time they present. They know they shouldn’t do it but its what they’ve done for years, everyone else does it and so they have to be challenged, inspired and coached to change.

It’s not about how long you’ve been doing something or even your intellectual understanding of the way it should be done that counts!  It’s the way you actually do it and your emotional ‘knowing’ that it’s a highly effective way that matters. That together with an open mind and being prepared to be challenged and stretched despite your experience is what makes all the difference.

Every audience regardless of their age, intellect, status or experience needs 5 things from a presenter. Unless we give them all 5 we are unlikely to make a genuine and lasting connection.

 1. Give them the facts

Whatever your message and whatever your purpose you need to give them the facts and you need to do so clearly and swiftly.  Most presentations are designed to influence some action aligned to a specific result.  Unless you instill confidence in your audience by giving them the relevant detail you won’t achieve that goal.  They need to understand the logic behind your message, see the data or evidence and they need you to bring all of that to life with clear and colourful examples of what you mean.

You need to show them the features, the benefits and if you have case studies or even props to show them you’ll win over their left brains.

 2. Make them feel something

Whether your message is designed to inform, educate, entertain or inspire them your number one priority once you have your facts straight is to help them feel something.

That means connecting with them on an emotional level.

You can do that through telling them true, relevant and powerful stories, using anecdotes and metaphors and making your presentation thought provoking, interesting and different.

Humour, surprise and even a little drama or suspense can each serve you well in moving them to action. Don’t let them just passively listen and acknowledge your words help them to feel something too.

 3. Show them the future

Nearly 30 years ago a former boss and mentor of mine once told me something I have not only never forgotten but have used to extraordinary effect over the years,

‘The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see a future.’

Whilst I didn’t realise or appreciate it in the moment they have probably been the most impactful words ever shared with me apart from my wife saying, ‘I do’.

I believe that those words are critically important for every presenter as it’s our job to help our audience see the future.

We need to share a compelling vision and give them the big picture of how our message will really help them and the difference it will make to their personal or professional lives. That picture needs to be crystal clear too.

If your presentation isn’t designed to make a difference then you shouldn’t be wasting their time, you should simply send them the information or idea in an email or document instead and ask them to call you if they have any questions.

4. Don’t be a comedian

One of the main reasons so many business presentations are regarded as boring and a great number of us dread attending them is because they are simply far too long. They are too long because a lot of the information shared is irrelevant and superfluous ‘noise’. Think about your favourite comedian;can you imagine the impact of the joke if she droned on and on for 20 minutes before delivering the punchline.

They get to the point quickly and so should you. In business presentations your punchline is your message but unlike a comedian you cant afford to wait to the end to deliver it, you have to give it to your audience up front.

5. Step forward

If some of your audience do know more than you do on the topic you are speaking on then of course it is quite likely that someone may ask a question you don’t know the answer to. When that happens don’t do what many presenters do which is to take a step backwards, drop their eyes and shrug their shoulders. 

This is your moment to shine rather than retreat:


  • Step forward and lean into the question. 


  • Take a breath, pause for  moment and make eye contact.


  • Don’t just make eye contact with the person who asked the question share it with everyone.


  • As you do be very honest that you don’t know the answer but make a commitment to find out.


  • Given the level of experience in the room have the courage to acknowledge that and ask if anyone else knows the answer. 


  • If you don’t know the answer but do have a thought or opinion on the question then make it clear that you don’t know the answer and then share your thought.


Hostile questions

These are quite rare of course but every now and then you will find a ‘sniper’ in the room.

When you find yourself in the awkward position of answering a difficult question that the questioner wants to make a big issue of and draw you into an argument don’t succumb to it. If you are satisfied that you answered their question to the best of your ability and there is nothing more you can add but they want to continue try this instead:

  •  Listen very closely and carefully to the point they are trying to make.


  • No matter how small it may be find something in their words you can sincerely agree with. In other words, you may not like it but you know something makes sense.


  • Agree with that small point that you acknowledge makes sense and that you can at least agree with.


  • Shut up and don’t say another word 


If you give them the facts, help them to feel something, show them future, get to the point and step into difficult questions it doesn’t matter who they are or how much they already know they will thank you and be grateful they came.

I really hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image: Courtesy of flickr.com


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