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Making Your Audience Uncomfortable, And Why It Works in Presentations

The problem with most presentations is that they look, sound and feel like presentations.

The look? PowerPoint.

The sound? Familiar, with an introduction, middle and end.

The feel? Corporate, even dull.

It’s comfortable, for the presenter and the audience.

Why do you want your audience to feel comfortable?

You’re telling them something new.

You’re excited.

You want them to be engaged.

And to engage, you need to bring them with you, outside of their comfort zone.

Here’s how…

Ditch PowerPoint

making your audience uncomfortable-presentations-pink-elephant-comms-powerpoint

More specifically, ditch bad PowerPoint.

Because people will expect you to use it.

Here’s why I believe most PowerPoint presentations miss the mark.

It’s old information

Many PowerPoint presenters will begin by thinking:

“What great infographics do I have? That’ll do – I’ll build my presentation around that”

The audience fails to be taken into account.

Here’s how to centre the presentation entirely on your audience.

It affects eye contact

presentations ditch PowerPoint man with screen.

If you’re presenting and I’m looking at your slides, your chance of engaging with me dwindles.

If you’re looking at the screen, that chance falls to zero.

Having internal notes in front of you allows you to maintain eye contact with your audience.

Taking away PowerPoint completely forces everyone to engage.

It kills your enthusiasm

Even you are bored with your slides.

I can tell by your voice.

So remove the slides, or at worst, weed out the words and put something interesting up there.

Tell a story through your presentations

presentations ditch PowerPoint woman in field.

I worked with a recycling organisation in the Midlands yesterday.

One of the Managers asked me how to get her true personality across during the presentation.

Tell a story, I urged her.

Undo the top button of your presentation and take its tie off.

Speak as though you were in the pub at 5.00 on a Friday night.

Her next presentation turned away from PowerPoint and spoke to the whites of people’s eyes.

Instantly, the charm, warmth and energy she displayed around the table in the morning resumed.

So whisper it quietly: adults are just big children and like to be read stories.

Of course, the story needs focus.

Here’s how to build that perfect story into your talk.

That should start without the introduction, without even your name (that can come once the story has finished).

They’ll feel uncomfortable, they’ll listen, and they’ll engage.

Lower your guard

presentations ditch PowerPoint Ashton Kutcher

I watched a superb presentation last week by US actor Ashton Kutcher.

He started by saying he felt a fraud, as he revealed his name was actually Chris.

And that Chris had an unglamorous start to life.

The beauty of lowering your guard is that the audience thinks:

“Wow, I really thought I knew Ashton”.

“But he’s trusting us with his vulnerability”.

And now we’re more likely to buy into what you’re telling us, too.

I sat in the audience of a presentation in Glasgow recently where author Dr. Steve Peters ended his speech with the words:

“I don’t care what you think of me”.

“I don’t care if you really enjoyed this or if you hated it”.

“Because I’m happy with it – and that’s all that matters to me”.

He went on to make the point that we need to detach our self-esteem from what other people think about us.

I felt uncomfortable, but you know what? I remember every word.

And the more I think about it, the more I agree with his point.

Speak the truth when presenting

presentations ditch PowerPoint boy holding ears.

The truth can often be uncomfortable in itself.

It’s one of the reasons why in Britain we’ve developed a second language, a double-speak, that dresses criticism up in eggshells.

It’s beautifully satirised in BBC comedy W1A.

And it’s found in every presentation I see.

It has two forms:

1.Criticism dressed up as praise

“We’ve had a tough year – well done everyone for sticking in”

(after sales have nosedived).

2.Bad news dressed up as good

“This is really interesting opportunity for us”

(after the budget was cut in half).

presentations ditch PowerPoint criticism smiley face quote.

Although it’s awkward and difficult to deliver criticism directly, it’s best done sooner rather than later.

I listened to a financial services presentation recently, which began with the analysis of the last six months’ trading.

It felt like good news and finished with the phrase:

“We know we need to adapt to new changes in the market”.

I was curious about the end, and on probing, realised that the presenter was really saying that unless they turned things around, they’d be cutting jobs by March.

We reworked it together.

“We need to change the way we do business”.

The start was shocking, which is exactly what the audience, and the business needed.

To be stirred into action.

Ask for something

presentations ditch PowerPoint young child with bracken frond.

In Britain, many of us hate asking for things.

So presentations peter out towards the end, with phrases such as:

“So if you’d like to know more please don’t hesitate to get in touch”.

Are you really giving up your time so people get in touch to find out more?


You’re there because you want them to buy your product, or sign up to your programme, or heed your advice.

So ask them if they’re ready to do that.

Be direct.

Your audience will feel uncomfortable, which is exactly how you want them to feel.


Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications. You can view his full profile here.



Photo by Julien AndrieuxTeemu Paananen,, Asso Myron on Unsplash

4th October 2017 Featured in: Blog By:

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