5 Ways to Surprise Your Audience During a Presentation

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If you’ve watched more than a few presentations in your lifetime, you’ll notice most of them adhere to similar patterns. The speaker takes the stage and queues up a slide deck. They introduce themselves and the topic of their presentation. A series of slides make up the “meat” of the presentation, containing statements, facts and data. Then the speaker provides a brief conclusion, perhaps soliciting audience questions before formally wrapping up their session.

There’s a reason this tends to be the go-to format for delivering information to a group. It’s tried and true. But presenters beware: When people believe they know what’s coming, their attention tends to wane. And you don’t want your presentation to be run of the mill; you want it to be one in a million.

Consider implementing one or more of these ways to surprise your audience during your next presentation. After all, only those willing to take chances will achieve memorability.

Break the Audience Barrier

By default, viewers see your role as active and theirs as passive. While this perception is partially true, it can also hold people back from feeling truly invested in your presentation since they see it as separate from themselves.

Engaging speakers know how to break down the barrier between themselves and the audience. One tactic is simply asking your audience questions about themselves—and meaning it. These audience check-ins turn a one-way stream of information into a two-way collaboration.

Start by asking a question relevant to your topic. Then factor the results into your presentation. For example, let’s say you’re presenting on a new marketing initiative to an audience of coworkers from different departments. You might start by asking how many people know about your current marketing strategy. If only one-third of attendees raise their hands, you know you need to briefly cover what you’re doing now before launching into the new initiative. Your audience will appreciate you taking their experience into account and connecting with them on a genuine level.

Contradict Audience Expectations

Anytime a speaker contradicts conventional beliefs, the audience has a reason to perk up and listen a little harder. Sometimes, surprising your audience is a matter of catching them off guard. Try for a provocative opening where you make a point by challenging people’s assumptions. It will make the follow-up much more compelling.

Mix Up Your Delivery Style

The best presentation ideas put the audience first, end of story. Presenters who are cognizant of people’s limited attention spans can do everyone a favor by keeping their presentation concise and varied. Monotonous delivery risks putting everyone to sleep and obscuring even vital information. So, alternate the cadence of your delivery—vary the speed and volume of your presentation. Build in tactful silence when necessary. Give the audience a mental break every few minutes.

Make Facts Wow-Worthy

Sometimes even the most straightforward fact fails to elicit a response within audience members. This is because dropping a fact is not enough on its own; only putting it into relevant context makes it impactful. One expert recommends using the phrase “that’s the equivalent of” to help listeners better visualize statements in tangible terms.

Get Personal Right Away

How personal you can and should get depends on the nature of your presentation, of course. But people tend to pay attention more astutely if they connect with the presenter. Thus, showing your human side can be advantageous for winning over your audience. Surprise your audience—in a good way—by sharing a personal anecdote, mantra or lesson early on. This will enhance the storytelling effect of your overall presentation.

Surprise can be a highly useful tool in delivering information to an audience. Use it strategically and sparingly for lasting results.

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Samantha Acuna is a writer based in San Francisco, CA. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Yahoo Small Business.