As presentation designers, we can really appreciate the art of presentation. Whether it’s the late Steve Jobs demonstrating the future of technology or a TED talk on ‘Death by PowerPoint’, seeing the synthesis of public speaking, visual design, and audience engagement is a joy for Synapsis Creative.

Let’s properly explore the elements that go into a memorably presentation and break down the key steps that go into creating and executing a presentation that captivates audiences, informs the right people, and compels them into action.

Jump to Presentation Writing

Jump to Presentation Design

Jump to Audience Engagement

Jump to Post Presentation

This marriage of design, psychology, and charisma is why we are so enchanted by well executed presentations and so inspired by the process of creating one. It’s the reason PowerPoint was first developed and why it remains the name ubiquitous in presentation design.

Presentation Writing

Often when we’re approached to put together a presentation, clients tend to give either very scarce design briefs or hand over an outline that is far too long/detailed. So what is the key to writing for presentation?

As designers, we’re constantly scaling down the number of elements onscreen or begging clients to simplify their ideas to a few basic dot points. People tend to struggle when asked to condense their ideas or expressions.

It’s human nature to overexplain because we assume the listener is clueless and we also fear the sound of silence, particularly when we’re presenting to audiences. This is the real value of content writers and editors – they can boil down complex ideas and massive chunks of text into something easily digested.

Prior to writing your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do long do you have for the presentation? (This is vital as it will dictate just how much detail you can give and how attentive your audience will be)
  • Who is your audience? (There’s a distinct difference in tone and delivery when presenting to an investor, a subordinate, a superior, or a potential client)
  • What is the purpose of your presentation? (Forget messaging; what action do you want to evoke from your audience)?
  • What are the key things you want your audience to take away from your presentation?

While the last two points may seem similar, the first is about action and the second is about thought.

On episode 79 of The Presentation Podcast, veteran copywriter and scriptwriter Mort Milder offered three key things for presenters that I would like to reiterate. The first thing he noted was the importance of having a brief outline of no more than three key points. The answers to those initial questions above will form your basic presentation outline, which means you’re now ready to get into the specifics such as how long to spend on each point and how to convey them.

Mort’s second point is rehearse your presentation out loud and preferably to someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and industry. The reason for this is because things look and sound different on page compared to out loud. Also, if someone who knows nothing about the content still understands what you’re saying and retains that information then you’ve done your job.

The third and final point Mort made was that shorter is always better. This is a notion shared by writers and designers alike – the KISS principle (keep it short and simple). Since the rule of threes applies to people’s ability to retain memory, try to compact your ideas into a maximum of three bullet points and never try to overload your audience with information when they’ll only walk away with three takeaways at most.

Mort’s three tips summarise the main mistakes we see make when clients write for a presentation. They fail to outline things simply and concisely, and they often don’t rehearse their presentation in front of someone beforehand. Writing is an unforgiving job (as my content writer regularly bemoans), so it’s usually best to leave it to the professionals, but if you insist on writing it yourself, please remember to the power of brevity and preparation.

Presentation Design

This is PowerPoint’s main domain, since presentation design borrows from different arts and disciplines to create a multi-faceted and multimedia experience.

Presentation designs various elements:

Presentation design conveys often complex or dull information in a digestible manner – much like data visualisation (infographics).

Infographics demonstrate how a balance of design and informational hierarchy can make complex information easier to understand.

The hierarchy of information simplifies and prioritises information in accordance with importance to help audiences gain an understanding quickly and comprehensively.

Data visualisation transforms facts and figures into something easily digested and pleasant to the eyes. By giving a graphical representation of data through elements such as charts, maps, and graphs, information thus becomes more accessible, making it easier to understand trends, patterns, and outliers.

This is the same essence as presentation design. Whether to inform, persuade, entertain, or a bit of all – presentation design communicates in a way that captures and retains audience attention.

Audience Engagement

In the era of social media, the term ‘engagement’ gets thrown around often and aggressively. At its essence, audience engagement is about creating a personal and emotional connection that inspires others into action – whether that be simply reading more, connecting directly, or making a purchase.

Audience engagement is vital to attracting, retaining and converting casual customers into brand advocates. According to Capgemini, 81% of emotionally connected consumers will not only promote a brand to others, but also spend more with that brand, and 70% of consumers with high emotional connection spend up to twice as much with that brand.

However, engaging audiences means connecting with people and they all react differently to messaging, operating on different platforms and channels. Understanding how engaged your audience is will help dictate the way you approach them, where you approach them, and how you motivate them. Thus, enter the seven levels of engagement.

Seven Levels of Engagement

Seven levels of engagement were originally produced by professors Bangert-Drowns and Pike in 2001, measuring and analysing students’ varying degrees of engagement within the classroom. From a marketing perspective, the theory was expanded by Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of brand consulting firm, CalaystCreativ. Slavin added actions to each level and applied them to marketing to help brands track customer engagement and what steps to take in order to progress those customers through the below engagement framework.

  1. Disengagement
  2. Unsystematic Engagement
  3. Frustrated Engagement
  4. Structure-Dependent Engagement
  5. Self-Regulated Interest
  6. Critical Engagement
  7. Literate Thinking

The bottom three levels (representing ‘foundational work’) focus on the ‘attract’ element of inbound methodology, which means educating people with your content and eliminating the barriers hindering people’s access to that information.

All brands should have ways to: identify the people at each level; take an action to level them up; have goals and metrics for measuring progress. Let’s look at the first few levels to see how brands make fans out of disengaged audiences.

Initial Attraction into Audience Engagement

Disengagement is when audiences and consume your content passively, showing disinterest by avoiding interaction or communication with brand. If you think about the educational background from which this theory sprung, students who don’t enjoy classes will avoid answering questions (i.e. engaging) when asked to raise their hand during that class.

If your content and ads have nothing to do with your intended audience, or they have the wrong messaging for that audience, then they won’t appeal to your audience, who will be actively ignored them (i.e. avoidance).

At this point, you should be measuring clicks and cost-per-lead on ad campaigns, open and clickthrough rates on email, and customer feedback. This will help you identify opportunities for targeted messages, as you use the above measure to understand your audience’s preferred content type and communication channels. Thorough research can also help you build buyer personas to better understand your audience’s expectations.

Only use paid advertising if you have a plan and some data to support your marketing choices. It’s best to initially run some free campaigns to understand where your customers are and what they desire.

A great way to reach out to customers for free is through email. According to Hubspot 25% of your email list expires annually due to people switching roles, email providers, or simply unsubscribing. You can clean up your email list by running a re-engagement campaign, whereby you’ll identify contacts worth retaining and those that are either uninterested or no longer available.

Re-engagement campaigns give you an opportunity to remind customers about recent changes or improvements, verify if they’re still interested in your brand, and whether their contact details are up to date.

Confused and Frustrated Audience Engagement

The second level is unsystematic engagement, where audiences are confused by your messaging and, since it doesn’t resonate, avoid engaging with you. Returning to the classroom example, students who were confused by previous lessons and didn’t voice that confusion will avoid engaging with the class as they’ve fallen behind.

The key here is in the messaging. Rather than ask audience whether things make sense to them (which comes across accusative), ask whether or not you explained things clearly (which places the onus on your business, rather than blame the audience).

For audiences at this stage, it’s important to run A/B tests through your website, social-media ads, and email campaigns. Simply create two versions of content, such as landing page or ad, and analyse which performs better. Other useful metrics include website bounce rates from and customer feedback from surveys, focus groups, or user tests.

Research with SEO can also help you clarify your messaging, understand what your audience is searching for, and how to best provide it to them.

The final foundational stage is frustrated engagement, where audiences are distracted by things outside of their control and thus frustrated with your brand. Often these customers began as engaged and are now distracted.

Think of a student who’s distracted by something outside the classroom window and now doesn’t understand what’s going on in the lesson. Bad user experiences (either from distraction or their own inability) often leads customers to frustrated engagement.

To better understand this type of customer, measure your page load times. According to Hubspot, websites that take longer than three seconds to load can lose almost half of its visitors, and the site recommends an ideal load time is less than 1.5 seconds.

Another useful metric for frustrated engagement is clickthrough rates on your ads and pop-ups. Your pop-ups should offer customers something relevant and valuable, and they should only appear when it makes sense for the users, like when they open a certain page or reach a certain point in your blog.

Pop-ups should also language that is specific, actionable, and human. You’ll also need to ensure pop-ups have been optimised for mobile viewing, which means either excluding them or making sure they don’t take up the whole screen.

At this stage of audience engagement, you should also ensure your brand isn’t the one distracting your customers. If you align your messaging and platforms with those of your customers goals and expectations then you’ll minimise the confusion, frustration, and distraction audiences may feel.

Next time, we’ll look at the top end of the engagement framework and gain a better understanding of audiences that are familiar with the brand but aren’t necessarily connecting with it.

Audience Engagement and Retention

Structure-dependent engagement and self-regulated interest are stages most closely tied to the ‘engage’ element of the inbound methodology, so brands should be focused on connection and building relationships by engaging with audiences on their terms and their preferred channels. Let’s explore these two levels in finer detail.

Audiences at structure-dependent engagement are following instructed actions from a brand without engaging organically. Structure-dependent action examples could be, ‘Tag someone who’d be interest in this post for a chance to win’ or ‘Share your email for a free download link’. These are structured and instructional experiences that ask customer to provide something without sacrificing their own brand – i.e. low effort and low risk.

At this stage, businesses should be measuring shares and comments on social-media posts and blog – asking whether audiences are being instructed or is audience engagement occurring organically. Examples include sweepstake campaigns via social media, such as ‘tag a friend or hit follow for a chance to win’.

Businesses should also attach blogs to free downloadable resources, such as PDFs or templates, and then use social media to promote the blog and use the resource to get customer buy-in, like their email address or subscription.

Brands should also be measuring email engagement by splitting email-marketing audiences in groups based on interactions/experiences and then provide messaging that suits each group. For example, have different email content and strategy for first touchpoint, engaged leads, first-time customers, and repeat customers.

Business can also gather information from customers to tailor communications according to customer preferences. For example, getting audiences to choose the topics they’re interested in when they subscribe to blog content.

Self-regulated interest is when audience engagement with a brand is based purely on self interest. This often happens when brands partner with other brands or influencers, or do a giveaway to create awareness, which draws in audiences motivated by the partners or by self-interest (a saving, a promotion, etc). Audience engagement here is often incentivised for the wrong reasons.

To increase audience engagement, businesses should create an integrated experience where branding is front and centre. Brands must effectively connect brand identity and values with their influencers, prizes, and partners. They should also clarify why they’ve partnered with their selected partners and offer audiences the chance to connect further with the brand’s experience, since people may be emotionally connected to a campaign, but aren’t necessarily connected to the brand

At this point, businesses should measure the retention of sign-ups, subscribers, followers, and buyers 30 days after event. Measuring success of integrated products built with partners also helps understand whether partnerships and collaborations make sense for brands.

Audience Engagement Apex

Critical engagement and literate thinking are linked to the ‘delight’ stage of inbound marketing, which means brand should be linking their success with customers’ success. This is about transforming passive audiences into loyal and active advocates.

Critical engagement means audiences are engaged with brand on an emotional level, believing the brand understands and cares about its audience’s goals. At this stage of audience engagement, businesses should focus on its goals and the goals of its customers. Brands prioritise things more meaningful than products or sales, such as goals, improvement, transformation, brand loyalty.

Bridging the gap to brand loyalty means sharing the company’s story and inspiring others to do the same. This helps build further emotional connection with audiences and demonstrate a concern for them as individuals.

The key to audience engagement here is listening, which requires the right tools, patience, and team. Brands should ask audiences who they are through social campaigns and user-generated content that encourage users to share. The more businesses ask people to share, the more they’re keeping audiences at the highest level of engagement because it requires them to look inside themselves, identify their story, and connect with the brand.

Businesses should measure online reviews and testimonials. A good place to start is general sites like Yelp, Facebook, Google, Amazon; and industry-specific sites like TripAdvisor (food/accommodation), WebMD (medical), and OpenAgent (real estate).

Brands can also proactively ask happy customers for reviews. According to Hubspot, the most effective channels for review collection are email, events, and triggering reviews based on product usage. Hubspot also noted that rewarding reviewers helps brands gather more feedback as the chance of a small reward boosted Hubspot’s review numbers by 733%.

It helps brands to display their company values on their website and use those values to dictate how the business works with partners, clients, and customers. Inspiring them to set their own values can help create alignment and ensure loyalty.

And finally, there’s literate thinking, where audience engagement occurs on an emotional level and audiences feel the brand identifies with their personal values, beliefs, and stories. They feel the brand creates a brand experience that inspires and empowers them as individuals.

The highest level of audience engagement is when someone is inspired to learn on their own. Brands do this to audiences by creating messaging that allows people to pull from their own values/beliefs and align with the brand. Businesses should connect with people in a way that entices them to willingly act as brand ambassadors (through word-of-mouth marketing) and give back to the brand (i.e. reciprocate brand loyalty).

Like the previous stage, the trick is to create a strategy that asks the community to share their stories. Examples include, paid ads targeting the right people, influencers sharing their stories, and sweepstakes with partners that stand for similar brand values.

Some key metrics to measure are net promoter score (NPS), customer retention, customer loyalty program performance, and user-generated content.

When looking at NPS, businesses should ask, ‘on a 1-10 scale, how likely are you to recommend us to others? Then categorise the scores accordingly.
– 0-6 are detractors (unhappy with potential to leave the brand or even share damaging experiences with other customers).
– 7-8 are passives (indifferent with potential to become promoter or switch to competitor).
– 9-10 are promoters (enthusiastic, loyal, brand advocates).

The percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors is a brand’s NPS. Please note that anything above 0 is good while 50-plus is excellent, and 70-plus is phenomenal.

The formula for customer retention rate is ((# of customers at end of period – # of customers acquired during period) / (# of customers at start of period)) x 100. According to Hubspot, just a 5% increase in customer retention can increase company revenue by 25-95%, since retaining customers is much easier and cheaper than acquiring new ones – plus return customer generally spend more, shop more often, and are more likely to refer others.

While businesses may be tempted to create customer loyalty programs for retention, Hubspot notes that 25% of consumers abandon loyalty programs without redeeming any points and 54% of loyalty memberships are inactive.

The key is to build loyalty based on what the brand values and represents rather than just what it produces. Audience engagement is about connecting with customers so closely that it no longer is about offering benefits; it’s about representing a part of their identity that they are invested in emotionally.


Questions and Answers

You’re standing there sweating in front of your audience. You’ve just given what you thought was a good presentation, but your audience is getting sleepy. You take a hard swallow and ask “Are there any questions?” Your audience answers with silence. How do you get those great audience questions you want?

It’s easy! By keeping just three things in mind, you can start getting great audience questions.

1. Warm them up

: Studies show that your audience’s attention drops to zero after ten minutes. On top of that, they settle into a passive “TV watching” mode after only five minutes. How can you keep them stimulated until you hold your Q&A? Let’s break it down to a schedule:

0 – 1 minute

Introduce yourself and your topic. Let them settle in. NEVER start off with questions here, as your audience won’t know what to ask.

1 – 4 minutes

Lay the groundwork of your basic idea, and look here for 4 fun ways to do that.

4 – 6 minutes

This is the critical point for keeping your audience engaged. You need to give them a soft break while bringing their engagement back. At the same time, you need to get them used to the idea of asking questions. There are three good ways to do these three things:

  • Put a rhetorical question to your audience without the pressure to actually answer. Make sure you give them time to think about it.
  • Ask everyone to raise their hand. Now ask them to lower their hand depending on if they meet certain conditions. This ensures everyone is engaged.
  • Incorporate an interactive poll. We personally recommend Sendsteps. Not only is it simple for your audience to use, it’s absolutely free.

6 – 9 minutes

Expand on your basic idea by building on the question you’ve just asked your audience. As you design this section, be sure to ask the 5 questions for effective presentation design.

9 – 10 minutes

Now that you’re close to losing your audience’s attention, it’s time to hold your Q&A! This is the tricky part, so how do you get those great audience questions you want?

2. Ask them to share questions among themselves:

As an audience member, it can be nerve-racking to ask your questions alone. You think you might ask something obvious, and don’t want to look like a fool in front of everyone. On top of that, you need time to think of an effective answer.

As a presenter, you need to put audience members at ease. This can be as simple as saying something like “Turn to the person next to you and ask them what you’d still like to know.” Then, once they’ve had time to talk, ask them what they asked each other! This technique, of making people discuss their questions in pairs first, will ease them into your Q&A. It also allows you to relax before responding.

Once the questions begin, you need to keep them coming. How do you encourage your audience to continue with the questions?

3. Show appreciation for every question:

Be equally enthusiastic about every question. If you praise certain questions and criticise others, your audience will be unwilling to ask theirs. On top of that, take the time to write out the key ideas their questions connect with. This shows that you care about what they’re asking, and will make them want to ask more.

Live polling audiences

An interactive poll is a great way to keep audiences engaged while ensuring they’re actually paying attention to your presentation. Live interactive polls are great for webinars or conferences.

Our favourite app for embedding live interactive polls into PowerPoint is Sendsteps. This app uses text messaging and web platforms to collect audiences’ votes/responses, which are displayed instantly in your PowerPoint presentation.

Before the presentation, you create the questions, customise how the chart looks, and how your audience can respond. During the presentation, invite the audience to respond by visiting a webpage or texting. After the presentation you have access to an online dashboard that reports your

Follow-Up/Thank-You Emails

Follow-up surveys go a long way towards understanding the impact of your presentation and what you can do next time to create more engagement. Posting highlights and thank-you messages on social media can keep your presentation on people’s minds. And a thank you email is a cheeky way to send through those surveys.

Once you’ve collated surveys, you can use that data for measuring ROI, refining for next time, and using any glowing reviews as testimonials for re-cap content. A re-cap blog post should be done within a week or so of the event to ensure it stays on people’s minds and can be shared on their timelines.

Post-presentation blogs can not only demonstrate to attendees (and those absent) how successfully the event went, but it can also be used to promote any future presentation you may be planning. Be sure to get any post-event communication out there in a timely manner otherwise the hype from your event will be lost.


Using video in your presentation can help illustrate points further or offer another perspective to the speaker. It can also help break up the monotony of a single speaker.

It can also be valuable to record your presentation for a couple of reason. Primarily, it’s great way to see how you present – all your body cues and gestures, your speaking tone and speed, how your slideshow looks as your backdrop. Furthermore, recording your presentation/event gives you a digital asset you can then share through social media and other platforms.

Marketing on Social Media

Hate it or love it, there is no more effective marketing tool for timely events than social media. Nothing can target the right audience and update in real time like it, so you’d be a fool not to maximise your event marketing efforts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

As we’ve written previously, Facebook is powerful because it offers paid marketing, so you can target your event marketing message towards relevant users. You can also create an event page here to share updates, engage your followers, and gauge the general interest of potential attendees.

We’ve explored Twitter’s value before, but the strength of this platform lies in its ability to be quick and topical with content. Be sure to create an event hashtag and think about live-tweeting updates from the event.

Instagram lets you create a visual profile for your event and also has a sense of immediacy through features like Instagram Stories and livestreaming. Use this platform for sharing promotional pictures and videos.

LinkedIn is likely to be the best channel for reaching those in your industry as it provides a rich and dynamic network of professionals. This makes the platform ideal for connecting with people that would be interested in relevant corporate functions and events.