Public speaking trends for 2017

At the start of the new year, I wanted share three trends in workplace presentations that I expect will continue to gain traction in 2017. If you want to be on the leading edge of public speaking trends, consider incorporating the following elements into your presentations:

  • Interactivity

The era of passive audiences is over. After all, lecturing to listeners when they have a smartphone, tablet and / or laptop at the ready is a recipe for being ignored.

Savvy speakers are making their presentations more interactive. Take for example, a capital management firm I work with on its annual seminar for investors. Instead of reserving only a fraction of their program for Q&A, this year the principals are reserving half the event for a moderated fireside chat, where questions will be collected from clients in advance, as well as at the program by microphone, notecard, and mediated formats.

Q&A sessions aren’t the only way to promote interactivity. Storytelling has an interactive quality because listeners are comparing what they hear to their own experiences. Showing video clips, doing a demonstration, or using a prop also has an interactive quality because listeners look up and refocus to see what’s happening at the front of the room.

For meetings, briefings and training programs, consider having audience members brainstorm ideas based on your talk, write them down, and even share them aloud. You might also offer a poll to gauge attitudes, a quiz to check for understanding, or a case study or activity so listeners can apply what they learned in a real-life context.

  • Brevity

We all know the old saw, “less is more.” And, due in no small part to the popularity of time-limited TED Talks, it thankfully is being applied more and more to public speaking situations. Just this fall, I worked with five leaders at non-profit organizations who gave 10-minute TED-style talks to explain their recent successes and motivate peers at their association’s national convention, and I coached an energy-industry executive who had just four minutes to deliver 10 slides that automatically advanced at 24-second intervals on the future of the industry under a Trump Administration.

These types of short talks are powerful because they force speakers to distill ideas and rehearse thoroughly to meet time constraints. Most importantly, brief and well-curated presentations are much more likely to hold the attention an audience. Even if event organizers don’t give you a short timeframe to deliver your message, aim to speak around 20 minutes (and no longer than 30 minutes whenever possible). The additional session time should then be used to integrate Q&A and other interactive elements. As for longer formats, such as training programs, break up the allotted time into a series of 30-mintue modules where you have 15 to 20 minutes of speaking and instruction punctuated by 10 to 15 minutes of guided practice and concept application.

  • Simplicity

Busy, text-laden slides are becoming extinct. If you’re still writing your speaking notes on slides, it’s time to stop. Instead, use a separate outline (try my Sandwich Structure outlining method) that prompts your next point with key words and phrases (note: this requires that you rehearse so your delivery is smooth).

In addition to removing text to simplify supplemental materials, speakers also are using professional graphic designers to create slides and handouts with beautiful visual elements such as photos, charts, graphs, illustrations, etc. that help audience members understand and remember the ideas presented. If you’re not enlisting the services of a graphic designer, 2017 is the time to start. Don’t have capability in house? No problem. Services like make it easy and affordable to hire graphic designers for projects, even small ones.

As you look ahead to speaking opportunities on your calendar in 2017 – from client pitches and briefings to the board of directors, to conference presentations and webinars – remember to keep your talk interactive and brief, and your presentation aids simple.