by Gavin Adams
Have you ever seen a really engaging presentation? I don’t mean a “well, I didn’t fall asleep, and I remembered the funny story” engaging presentation. I mean a really, really engaging presentation. The kind of presentation where the time flew by, you actively listened, and then remembered what was said (and even better, knew what to do based on what you heard). As a pastor, I’ve heard my fair share of engaging presentations. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard my fair share of, well, we’ll say less than engaging presentations.
I did a decent amount of communicating in the marketplace before transitioning to a career in professional Christianity, but when I began to articulate biblical truths, I learned a few lessons the hard way when it came to delivering engaging presentations. I used to think it was all about the content. If the content was “deep” enough, then people would be interested. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize that deep doesn’t equal engaging. By the way, it also doesn’t equal helpful, but that’s another post. For a while, I thought a speaker’s internal charisma was a requirement for an engaging presentation, but again, I found that charisma doesn’t necessarily equal engaging. After making my fair share of mistakes and looking for engagement in all the wrong places, I found a few principles that now drive my approach to communication and presentation.
As a communicator (whether in a church, the marketplace, or even in our homes), an engaging message is of the utmost importance. The reasons are obvious, and I won’t waste your time listing them all here. But if the purpose of your presentation is to have a listener understand and apply what you say, then keeping them engaged is absolutely necessary. After studying communication and communicators, here are two absolute necessities for an engaging presentation:
1. Pay attention to the tension: You’ve probably heard this before, but I believe it is so critical to an engaging presentation that I am repeating it. It doesn’t matter what kind of presentation you are delivering or who is sitting in the audience, if you cannot create a reason for them to listen, then they aren’t going to listen. Just because you have a message to deliver and there’s people in the room to hear it doesn’t mean they are listening, and it certainly doesn’t mean they are engaged. To truly engage your audience, they must want to hear what you have to say. So, how do you force people to sit on the edge of their seats, lean forward, and beg to listen?
Simple. You leverage tension. Tension is a wonderful thing. By bubbling up to the surface the felt or unfelt need, you are creating tension. And tension is engaging! No amount of charisma can replace tension. Watch a great comedian. The best comedians in the business have nothing deep or helpful to say, but they are ridiculously engaging. And I believe the reason is tension. The timing of a joke, the way the punch line is delivered, and even their body language creates tension to hear more. And just as a comedian can create tension to hear the punch line, as presenters, we can create and leverage tension to keep our audience on the edge of their seats.
2. Preparation: Well, that doesn’t feel earth-shattering, does it? But, I believe true preparation is widely underutilized. Personally, I have found it nearly impossible to engage an audience while simultaneously flipping through my notes. Here’s why: you can’t have a conversation with a crowd if you are paying more attention to your notes than you are to your audience. You can’t feel the tension in the room if you are trying to remember what to say next. You can’t think about how the audience is responding if you are too worried about forgetting your next point. And while I’m thinking about it, stop trying to communicate more than one point (again, another post).
As a communicator, I’ve gone from being pretty dependent on notes to now just standing on a stage with nothing but a stool. The first time I tried it, I was scared to death. It was like being naked on stage—or at least being on stage without my security blanket. I don’t remember how that first note-less message was delivered, but I can tell you this: I was much more engaged with the crowd and their response throughout the message. And I’m guessing that made my presentation a little more engaging, too.
I’m certain there are more than two principles for delivering an engaging presentation, but I have to believe that creating tension and coming prepared are two things that would wind up on any list you encounter. What are some things that you have found make an engaging presentation?
Gavin Adams is the campus pastor of Watermarke Church in Canton, Ga., one of five North Point MInistries’ campuses. Watermarke Church currently averages 2,300 in weekly attendance, quadrupling in size since 2009. Before joining Watermarke in 2008, Gavin was the Family Ministry Director of Southside Church, a North Point Ministries strategic partner in Peachtree City, Ga. Gavin received an undergraduate degree in marketing from Berry College and a Masters of Business Administration from Georgia State University. He spent 13 years in marketing and consulting, working with Accenture and as co-owner of Graphic Service Associates. Gavin lives in Canton, Georgia, with his wife, Chantel, and their four children. To find out more about Gavin and Watermarke, go to: www.WatermarkeChurch.com.