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Engaging presentations

Getting started

Before you begin, take some time to think about why you wish to communicate, what you want to get across (the purpose) and who you are trying to engage (the audience).

  • What is the talk trying to achieve?
  • Why engage this particular audience and why might they be interested in the talk?
  • What type of background does the audience have? What likely prior knowledge, values or preconceptions do they have?
  • What are the social and ethical issues which might arise from this talk? What issues will directly affect the audience?
  • How can you ensure you pitch the talk at the right level? Whilst your PhD thesis might be fascinating to you – what relevance does it have for primary school children?

How to make your talk engaging

An engaging presentation will involve the audience as much as possible, through creating space for questions and answers and the sharing of opinions. Audience voting mechanisms, getting the audience to move around and allowing volunteers to assist in demonstrations will maintain interest and keep the audience’s energy levels up. You might wish to prepare visual aides and demonstrations to make the talk more engaging and interesting. Try a mix of approaches to cater for the potential learning styles of different members of the audience.

  • Discussion and debate: A direct verbal lecture and the opportunity for discussions will suit the more linguistic learners in the audience
  • Visual aides: PowerPoint slides, video, striking images, demonstrations, charts and graphs will suit the visual learners in the audience
  • Objects and interaction: Passing around tangible objects and creating opportunities for audience members to build or draw something will help the kinaesthetic learners in the audience
  • Anecdotes and storytelling: Sharing inspiring stories, interesting examples and engaging anecdotes will help non specialist audiences to understand complicated issues and will maintain their interest more effectively than a series of facts. This is particularly useful for the inter-personal learners in the group
  • Audience self reflection: Opportunities that allow audience members to learn something about themselves (and to reflect upon their own views), are useful for the intra-personal learners in the audience 

What it can be used for?

Engaging presentations can be used to:

  • Promote the results of a recent study, activity or discovery
  • Inform publics and promote discussion and debate on an important societal issue
  • Support and enhance education related to your discipline, and inspire school children and their families to take an interest in careers in your subject area
  • Consult publics (or specific groups) on their views on a particular topic relating to your research, or to inform subsequent research activity

Things to bear in mind

There are various considerations to make in advance of an engaging presentation:

  • Do your research. Know your audience but be careful of assumptions and stereotypes. See our Understanding Audiences guide for more information
  • Be prepared for conflict and questions that you may not know the answer to. If you do not know the answer be honest and explain that the question is outside your area of expertise. You might wish to prepare a list of resources/links that you can point interested audience members to if they want more information
  • How will you market the event? If you are going to a school or participating in someone else's event, you may not need to worry about recruitment of attendees. However, if you are hosting your own public lecture, you will need to find ways of raising awareness and encouraging attendance from your target audience
  • Is the talk/lecture at a time and venue which is suitable to the majority of people in your target audience?
  • Think about catering. Do you need to provide refreshments? Are there any special dietary requirements? Do you know exact audience numbers? If not how many should you cater for? At what point in the lecture should refreshments be provided?
  • Ensure you arrange audio visual requirements in advance. Do you need a laptop and projector? Is there an internet connection? Do you need a microphone? How do you want the room to be laid out?
  • Do you need to think about transport? How will the audience get to and from the venue?
  • Consider accessibility and inclusion. Is there access for people with mobility issues? Are your visual aides suitable for people with visual impairments? Do you need an interpreter to provide sign language, or a foreign language interpreter for non-English speakers? Are your jokes funny to a 7 year old?
  • Do your demonstrations require a risk assessment?
  • You might want to practice your talk in front of a friend or colleague. Make sure you choose someone that you know will give you honest feedback
  • Make sure you turn up early and get everything set up before your audience arrives. There will always be early birds who arrive to 'get a good seat' and you wouldn't want to show them all your best visuals before you even begin

Cost and time requirements

Example costs

The cost of an engaging presentation varies, depending on whether the venue has a cost attached to it (in some instances it will be free - your institution may host it at no cost, or you may go directly to a school or community group's own premises). It will also depend on the length of the talk, the number of visual aides and if there is a cost attached to audio visual hire. You might even be lucky enough to be invited to give a presentation for which you are offered a fee or travel expenses.

Venue hire: Allow approx £100 per hour

Refreshments: Snacks usually costing up to £7.50 per person (Depending on the venue.) Teas and coffees usually costing up to £2.50 per person

Hire of audio-visual equipment:

  • Projector hire – approx £25
  • Flipchart hire – approx £10 

Consumables: Variable (Remember to factor in costs of handouts and any consumable used during practical demonstrations). 

Example timings

Time the planning process takes: This depends on how long the presentation is and how much interaction it involves. You will need to allow time to write and rehearse your talk, check access requirements, liaise with the venue, order catering, market the event where necessary, and to prepare demonstrations and handouts.