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How to make an engaging presentation on a serious topic – hints for lawyers

Putting together a presentation on a “serious” professional services topic does not mean you need to bore your audience with pages of bullet point sentences presented on a big screen via PowerPoint.

Presumably your audience already "knows" you are an expert on your topic by virtue of the fact that you are there presenting. You can reinforce this assumption by providing a lively and insightful presentation that demonstrates your knowledge by the way you present, not the words on the screen.

Here are some tips on how to go about presenting a serious topic in an engaging manner.

1. Research; know your topic and how to present it in a logical format 

Make sure you're up to date on your topic even if it is a subject matter you're very familiar with. Is there current news around the topic, advances in technology supporting the topic, new legislation or case studies?

While you're researching, make sure you formulate a logical flow of information that leads to a point and educates your audience along the way. In doing this, you can create a written hand-out that you can give at the conclusion of the presentation or email it out later. 

Remember, don't overload on providing information. Most people will only remember two or three things from a presentation, so decide what your two or three key takeaways will be and try and stick to these. 

As a legal services provider, the key purpose of a presentation is to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable and approachable so that when clients are looking for a provider in future, they remember you.

2. Know your audience 

Make sure you know in advance who it is you're presenting to and if possible their level of knowledge and specific areas of interest. You can do this by asking the organiser and also get a gauge by looking at an attendance list. For example, if you're presenting to CEOs it will be quite different to presenting to technical experts.

3. Prepare a visual presentation and a supporting hand out

Do not make the mistake of trying to combine your visual presentation with the supporting hand out document. These are two different resources that provide two different functions.

The presentation needs to assist you in holding your audience's attention and making your points memorable. If you present a PowerPoint comprised of many pages of sentences you will not make a good impression and will quickly lose the interest of your audience. 

Your hand out serves as reference material for those in the audience who want more in depth information on the topic at their leisure. You should make sure your name and contact details appear at the beginning and end of the document.

4. Tips for a killer visual presentation

Use images as much as possible in place of words and mix them up. Photos, graphs, cartoons, charts, tables, animations, short video clips - all will do. And don't use the seriousness of your area of expertise to avoid images; I've had tax lawyers use these techniques with great success and much appreciation from the receiving audience. 

The point of a great visual is to re-focus your audience’s attention - away from their smart phones and thinking about what they need to do when they get back to the office - back to you. Attention spans are hard to hold so find some funny (relevant) cartoons and your sense of humour to keep your audience connected to your presentation.

5. Engage your audience

There are many ways to do this and how you go about it will depend on your particular style. Some audiences are tougher than others to crack and the size of your audience will influence how you engage. Some methods are:

  • make eye contact with a number of different people in the audience as you're speaking; it's much easier to present if you feel like you're talking to individuals rather than a huge amalgamous mob. This method also ensures your presentation is personable.
  • Use voice inflection, not a monotone
  • Use pauses, slow down when you're making an important point, repeat a sentence or word to make a point
  • Tell a joke - this is risky and can fall flat so make sure you play it safe in terms of sex, politics and religion! 

6. Be prepared to be flexible

Sometimes the audience may be slightly different to what you were expecting and a good presenter will identify this and adjust the presentation accordingly. This may be either content or style. If the audience indicates a particular interest to a particular part of your presentation, stay with that area rather than forcing them through a set piece. 

7. If possible, provide the opportunity to ask questions during the presentation, rather than just at the end

Questions throughout a presentation keep it lively and engaging. It also allows you to gauge what the audience wants to hear more about. Additionally you’re receiving live feedback on your market and their interests. It may be daunting at first, but do try and keep your presentation open to questions from the audience. 

8. Hang around at the end

Don’t speak and leave! Make time at the end of the presentation to stay and talk to attendees. Often this is the time that quieter members of the audience will want to speak to you about specific questions they have. This is also perfect networking time, so even if it’s only ten minutes, stay and be available.

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