Tips for More Effective Presentations from Steve Hughes

By , September 5, 2014 8:00 am

by Laurel Evans

Last year I attended Steve Hughes’ “Own the Room: Presentations That Captivate and Win Over Any Audience.” Apparently it was such a hit that they had him back for AALL 2014 in Texas. Hughes’ talk came up in our most recent LLOPS meeting, where members shared their favorite takeaways from this year’s conference. I thought I’d share my notes from last year with you all. I still use what I learned from this session in presentations today!

Steve Hughes’ advice was directly applicable to the teaching and training I do regularly. He shared techniques for more successfully soliciting questions from the audience. Hughes recommended making handouts interactive by leaving blanks that participants need to fill in. Keeping programs interactive makes them more effective by capturing audience members’ fleeting attention. Hughes mentioned the startling fact that the average attention span is 3-8 minutes, so at these intervals you need to do something different to keep the audience engaged: change a slide, pause for questions, move around the room for no reason, ask them to fill in the blank on a handout, etc. And so, moving on…

Some other useful tips from Hughes for more effective and interactive presentations:

  • Pre-load the point. (Interestingly, another session I attended on writing recommended this same tactic, calling it by the military acronym “BLUF” for “bottom line up front.”) Frame the point you’ll be making from the perspective of the audience and put it FIRST. I’ve started using this in emails where I have to ask a question or make a point. Before I send an email, I often end up moving my question to the beginning.  It seems like I get a better response rate with this method.
  • When you use PowerPoint slides in a presentation, obey the 4×4 rule: no more than four bullet points per slide and no more than four words per bullet. The audience should be listening to you, not reading your slides.
  • Ask the audience to do things. (For example, ask someone to share their search string or ask everyone to be thinking of their most important takeaway from the class for later on.)
  • Use phrases like “Make a note of X.” (This helps reiterate the point you’re making and also suggests action. Suggesting that your audience do something may prompt action and thus reboot their attention span.)
  •  Ask questions often and throughout your presentation. Get comfortable with silence so that people have enough time to respond. Ask questions like:
    • What is your experience with X?
    • What have you found when you do X?
  • Suggest specific areas where they may have questions or comments. (“Are there any questions about selecting search terms?”)
  • If you ask whether there are any questions and no one has any, be ready to supply your own example questions. Hughes suggested couching your questions in terms like “What people often want to know is…” to make the audience feel more comfortable with the idea of asking questions.

One Response to “Tips for More Effective Presentations from Steve Hughes”

  1. Susan Schulkin says:

    This was very helpful, Laurel. Thanks!

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