Group presentations really aren’t much different from individual speeches, but we treat them like they are. The first thing we do when assigned a group presentation is divide and conquer—one person takes the first topic, another the second, and the last writes the introduction, conclusion, and designs the PowerPoint.
We would never write a speech like this. There’s no cohesion, no plan for moving from one topic to the next, and no consideration of how to be engaging to the audience.
The result? Well, you’ve seen it. Long, choppy presentations—even the group members look bored listening to each other.
We need to break our bad habits in group presentations. More speakers should mean more opportunities to be interesting, not more ways to torture the audience. To take your group presentation from make it stop to over the top, here are seven easy-to-implement tips.
#1 Agree on a group thesis statement
It feels like a no-brainer, but this is something we often forget in the midst of divvying up the labor of a group presentation. What’s our main point? As a group, write a one-sentence central message for your presentation. Doing so before you’ve assigned “topics” to group members will assure that each person’s content is loyal to the presentation’s theme and purpose. The thesis statement will anchor your presentation to a meaningful place and provide the cohesion many group presentations lack.
#2 Consider the story
Storytelling is a powerful persuasive tool. It is one of the simplest ways to connect to an audience and make a presentation memorable. So, why do groups rarely use it? Group presentations are weighed down with data and bullet points—especially in the corporate world. Data is important, but stories are data with a soul. Don’t make a presentation feel like a long list. Instead, find a story to tell. Add characters, places, imagery, and ways to humanize your research. Audiences won’t just be engaged—they’ll be impressed at your group’s ability to carry a storyline through multiple speakers.
#3 Plan transitions
Audiences appreciate changes of pace, so group presentations give us an extra opportunity to regain attention every time the speaker changes. Use this to your advantage. Plan how one speaker will close and the next will start. What will you say? How will you move? How many times will each person speak, and for how long? Depending on how much time you’re given, consider a format that allows each person to present more than once. As long as you can flow seamlessly from one speaker to the next, it’s a good way to keep the audience engaged. And, remember that previews, summaries, and ties to the thesis are just as important in a group presentation as they are in an individual speech. They’ll make the presentation easier for your audience to follow.
#4 “Brand” your group
The best speakers connect with audiences because they showcase their personalities on the stage. Speakers who know and share who they are can better connect to their audiences. This is one of the hardest elements for groups to achieve, but it can be done when groups are intentional about creating a cohesive personality, or “brand.” First, groups need to ask, “Who are we?” What tone or style is consistent with our collective personalities and your message? This will help groups consider how to dress, what kind of language to use, how to design the visuals, and what kind of physical delivery strategies to employ. This kind of intentional synergy will set you apart from the choppy, piecemeal presentations audiences are used to.
#5 Coordinate movement
Every member of the group is accountable for nonverbals—even if she isn’t speaking. Will the group face the audience or the speaker? Will you all stay in the same place, or does the designated speaker move when he presents? Be mindful of facial expressions and eye contact. Group members shouldn’t look bored or disengaged when they aren’t speaking. (By the way, you should never feel disengaged. If you are bored listening to each other, how do you think your audience feels?)Delivery doesn’t need to look unnatural or choreographed, but groups should be intentional about movement. Minimize distractions, move purposefully, and be energetic and engaging.
#6 Make better use of your practice time
We are used to seeing lousy group presentations, and the reason why is no mystery. Coordinating, writing, and practicing good presentations takes a lot of time—and that’s a scarce resource. When your group finally makes time to rehearse, don’t waste it. Practice in the most authentic setting so that you can identify strengths, correct weaknesses, and move on. Here are a few tips:
Have a dress rehearsal. If practicing in the real presentation space isn’t possible, recreate a similar setting. Practice with the visual aid, wear your presentation clothes, and rehearse movements. It will help you feel works and what doesn’t—and correct it before the real presentation.
Time your presentation, and each individual speaker. Are some sections too lengthy? What can you cut? Group presentations have the tendency to run long, but short presentations are much more effective at keeping the audience engaged.
Film yourself. Immediately, your group can identify distractions, lulls in energy, and rough spots. These things are usually easy to fix, but you only know to fix them if you know they exist.
Practice in front of a Third Party. Ask some friends to watch the group present. What questions do they have after hearing the presentation? What can they remember? When were they bored? It’s important to hear feedback from people who aren’t intimately familiar with the information because they can offer fresh eyes and ears in a way that group members can’t.
#7 Break the pattern
Whenever possible, exceed your audience’s expectations. Do not use the boring group presentations you’ve seen as a template, use them as a cautionary tale. How can your group be different? How can you change the way you speak, they way you move, the way you share data, or the way you use your visual aid? Here’s the good news: academic and corporate audiences usually have low expectations for group presentations. They expect dry statistics and death by PowerPoint. Why not change it? Your audiences (i.e., your bosses, professors and investors) will thank you. At the very least, they will hear you and remember you.
Breaking the pattern means breaking all of our group presentation bad habits. Truthfully, we all know what it takes to create a strong and engaging group presentation: it takes effort. It takes more than you take this part, I’ll take that part. When groups are intentional about message, identity, and audience, the presentation falls into place. Instead of divide and conquer, combine forces to create something that is even better than what you could do on your own.