Like humor, doing something unexpected is a surefire way to get your audience’s rapt attention. It is also risky and could backfire on you. That’s why this technique shouldn’t be tried until you feel very comfortable giving presentations. Once you’ve reached that comfort zone, try this technique for taking your presentations to the next level.
- Ask a Startling Question
One of the most common ways to do something unexpected is to ask a startling question. You can ask this question at the beginning of the presentation, or anytime throughout it. However, it’s very effective as an opening. The key to making the startling question effective is to phrase it so that the answer is obvious. For example, if your presentation is about effective leadership, your opening question could be something like, “If you were asked to follow without question one of these leaders, which would you choose? …” Then you could list three people, with one of them being the obvious choice.
- Other “Unexpected” Ideas
The easiest way to come up with an idea for doing something surprising is to think about what the audience may expect you to do, and then do the opposite. For example, if you think the listeners will be expecting you to present your sales figures in the body of your presentation, start the presentation with them, especially if they are good. Or, if your presentation is on the latest research in green technology, instead of talking about it, start the presentation using one single green product, and then talk about how much energy (or other environmental impact) that product will save. The bottom line is, to think about what most people do in a presentation, the usual formats and deliveries, and then do something that is opposite to that.
- A Word of Caution
Doing something surprising is fun, energizing, and attention-getting. However, like humor and other more advanced presentation techniques, a little goes a long way. If your entire presentation is filled with surprises, your audience will be so distracted they will forget your point. They may also not understand your presentation and what you’re trying to achieve. You need to find the right balance and introduce surprise props, songs, questions, etc., at selected points in the speech—and just a few throughout. These surprises also need to clearly relate to your topic, or they will really confuse your listeners. However, if you find the right balance, doing the unexpected can make your presentation stand out from among the rest.