Make Business Presentations Engaging

by Mark Maenche, Candidate Representative to the Candidate Liaison Committee

I remember well the presenter at an insurance conference that I attended more than 10 years ago. He told a dramatic story of being in a car full of children while pulling up to a drive-thru for some food. The clamor from the back of the vehicle with shouts of what each of them wanted was too much for him to handle. He barked at the order-taker, "I want $20 worth of food." The voice on the other end of the speaker tried to clarify, but he simply repeated his demand for $20 worth of food.

I have attended numerous meetings, workshops, conferences and classes since that event so many years ago. Why do I remember that particular story and so few details of most of the others? The answer is because that gentleman was highly engaging. He used all the tools at his disposal to draw the audience in and create lasting memories.

I have no doubt that we have all experienced sitting in an audience listening to a speaker who was, shall we say, less than engaging. When the tables turn and we have to fill the shoes of the speaker, we have a choice to make. We must ask ourselves, "Do I want to be an engaging presenter that captures the audience and takes them on a journey, or would I rather my audience wish they were somewhere else?" I choose the former!

Let's explore several ways to become a more engaging presenter.

  1. Understand the audience.
    • It is important to know to whom we will be speaking. We should also understand what needs to be presented. Will we need to communicate high-level information or more intricate details?
    • Always be aware of how long the presentation should be. Finishing on time is a sign of respect. If presenting in another country, it may be appropriate to investigate any cultural differences.
    • Keep in mind what it is that the audience should take away from the presentation. Is the information necessary for making a decision or has the information presented been a tool for future job performance? Knowing the end goal will influence how you share it.
  2. Be organized.
    • Make the presentation only as long as it needs to be. Communicate the message and end it.
    • Shuffling a bunch of papers while making the presentation will only distract from the message.
    • One common presentation structure is an opening where we tell the audience what we are going to tell them, tell them again in the body of the presentation, and close while repeating to the audience what we just told them.
  3. Be engaging and project confidence.
    • Make eye contact and smile. Use a story or humor to connect and relate to the audience.
    • Avoid filler words such as "um" and "ah".
    • Be wary of reading from a script. This has the potential to look staged and stiff.
    • Practice! The number one way to be confident is to know the presentation exceedingly well.
  4. Seek honest feedback.
    • English author Samuel Johnson said: "Advice is seldom welcome. Those who need it most, like it least." In order to improve, we will need constructive criticism to know ways to make our presentations better.
    • Watch a video of ourselves to provide our own critique of the areas in which we want to develop.

As we polish our skills in the areas above, our presentations will improve. Other benefits can accrue to us as well. With increased presentation skills, we have the opportunity to build a reputation as an authority on a subject, grow our earning potential, and secure lasting relationships with clients, customers and colleagues.

Across the actuarial spectrum it is likely that many of us will be called upon to give a presentation. We can begin to prepare for that moment now so that we are not caught off-guard. Instead of being the presenter that puts everyone to sleep, we want to share the idea the audience remembers 10 years later.