Teaching Skills: make presentation interesting

Tools for Teaching Navigation

Tools for Teaching: Introduction

Facilitation Skills: The art of group facilitation

Teaching and Presentation Skills: Keep these techniques in mind

Tips for Programs: Practical examples and resources

3. Building a Rich Body 

Techniques for Making Your Presentation More Interesting

  • Anecdotes – are short stories used to help illustrate a point. Personal experiences have an authentic feel to them and create real interest. Real-life stories of your successes and mistakes not only help you make your point but also help your audience identify with you. Other people’s experiences are equally as rich. The stories can be descriptive, humorous, serious, or startling. Just be sure that they enhance the point you are trying to make, not detract from it.
  • Humor – is appreciated by most people during a presentation as long as it is appropriate (nothing off-color, ethnic, racist, sexist) and enhances the point you are trying to make. The most obvious form of humor – the joke – is probably the one to use the least, if at all. Patricia Fripp, past president of the National Speakers Association, said it best, “You may ask, ‘Do I have to be funny?’ I ask, ‘Are you funny? If you are not funny, be inspiring.'” So how else can you be funny? You can use incongruities (e.g., a construction sign in a five story parking garage that was being repaired read, “Down with Caution.”), exaggerations, cartoons and comics, or personal stories that poke fun at yourself.
  • Analogies – or showing comparisons to similar but quite different factors – are one of the most powerful ways to make a point. They can communicate ideas far more clearly and interestingly than a mere explanation, especially for technical information.

A newspaper described the surface precision of the mirror installed in the Hubble telescope in this way, If the mirror was as large as the United States, the bumps and pits in its surface would be less than two inches from top to bottom. As a comparison, if a standard eyeglass lens were changed to an equivalent size, its irregularities would show 500-foot mountains and valleys.

What we have suffered in America is analogous to the way you cook a live frog. If you try to put a frog in boiling water, it’ll jump right out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually raise the heat to boiling, it will sit there until it’s cooked. We Americans, partly because of a healthy lack of interest in government, are being gradually cooked by bureaucrats and politicians who, had they attempted to sell us the huge burden of government we now suffer under all at once, would have been run out of town on a rail. Edward Crane, President, Cato Institute

  • Question – can be used to involve your audience. A rhetorical question is a thought-provoking question for which you do not expect an oral answer but causes the audience to ponder before you answer it (Does everyone need a bigger budget?). An enrollment or involving question is one you ask your audience for which you want a response – by show of hands or verbal statement (How many of you actually received a budget increase this year). This creates focus, arouses interest and sets a norm for audience participation.
  • Statistics and Other Data – if used effectively, can be very powerful in supporting your ideas, especially for the “numbers” or “bottom line” people in your audience. However, Mark Twain’s oft-quoted line, “There are liars and there are damn liars; and then there are statistics” points to just one of the problems with statistics. Since it seems that we can find a statistic to say whatever we want to say, be sure that your information is reliable and credible. Since numbers are not easily followed or retained by ear, visual aids should be used as appropriate. When using statistics, round up numbers, interpret numbers so they are more meaningful, repeat the important numbers, use them sparingly, and compare apples to apples.
  • Vivid Examples or Illustrations – clarify your idea and show what it might look like in practice. As soon as you say, “For example,” your audience will perk up and listen more intently. The type of example you use may simply be descriptive (one example of X is a. . .) or it may take the form of a story or an analogy. Examples may be real (how saving an endangered plant solved a problem) or hypothetical (imagine yourself as director of your state DNR).
  • Quotes – often capture an idea about your subject in a very interesting or unique way. They can also provide credibility to what you are saying. You can quote a famous person (politician, sports hero, scientist, writer, entertainer), an individual “famous” only to your audience, an expert in a field, or someone of opposing views. Paraphrasing a famous quote can also be effective (“Everyone complains about the computer system but no one does anything about it.”). In addition, you can quote current newspapers or magazines, poems, songs, books, movies or other quotable media. Always give the source of the quote and avoid overusing them.

Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, 2003.