As a nonprofit professional, you may be asked to deliver presentations to a wide variety of audiences, including donors, board members, grant-makers, and other stakeholders. If you don’t have a significant amount of public speaking experience, you might wonder how to make these presentations more compelling and engaging.
Don’t look at your presentations as an opportunity to talk at your audience. Your presentations are your chance to engage with your audience, bringing them into the conversation and connecting with them on a deeper level.
Whether you’re looking to build your donor community or communicate more effectively with your internal team, we’re going to share five tips for more effective nonprofit presentations:
- Get to know your audience.
- Incorporate audience engagement.
- Emphasize clear takeaways.
- Choose effective visuals.
- Practice every aspect of your presentation.
Becoming a skilled presenter can help you tell your organization’s story more effectively to any audience, allowing you to build a stronger support base for your cause.
1. Get to know your audience.
Before you can figure out what you’ll cover in your presentation, you need to consider who you’re speaking to. When you understand your audience, you can develop a presentation that resonates with them and speaks to their unique interests.
Use different research tools depending on the audience you’re presenting to. For example, if you’re talking with a group of donors or hosting a one-on-one major donor meeting, you can use your donor database to research your audience. If you’re speaking to new board members, you can review their board applications and notes that other team members have gathered about them through the interview process.
Use these resources to understand your audience’s:
- Background. Use your internal database and external resources such as social media to determine your audience’s demographics, employment information, philanthropic backgrounds, and other relevant information. This can help you gain a stronger understanding of your audience’s point of view and familiarity with your cause.
- Needs and motivations. What information do audience members bring with them to your speech, and what information do they need to gain from your presentation? Identify any gaps in your audience’s understanding of your topic and make these the main focus of your presentation.
- Communication preferences. Have your audience members expressed interest in different forms of communication in the past? For example, maybe your board members have expressed interest in seeing more infographics that showcase complex data concepts. Or, perhaps your grantmakers have noted a preference for limited visual content in your grant application presentation. Identify and respect these preferences as you plan your presentation.
With this information in mind, you can plan an informative and valuable presentation for your audience. Audience members will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to address their unique needs and motivations, and they’ll be able to gain a better understanding of the topic you’re covering.
2. Incorporate audience engagement.
Have you ever attended a conference presentation or work meeting that seemed to drag on without any clear end in sight? Your mind probably wandered away from the presentation and toward things like what you planned to eat for dinner or what happened on the previous night’s episode of ‘Survivor.’
Don’t let this happen with your presentation! Engaging your audience is one of the most effective presentation skills you can bring to the table.
Consider the following ideas for incorporating audience participation into your presentation:
- Ask for a show of hands. Taking a poll is a great way to help audience members feel more connected to your topic. This can give them a more personal stake in what you’re talking about because they may have experienced it themselves.
- Request volunteers to participate in a demonstration. Audience members will naturally be more intrigued watching a fellow attendee step up to the stage.
- Ask audience members to envision themselves in a scenario or situation. Ask audience members to close their eyes and picture themselves in a situation you describe. This is especially effective when speaking to prospective donors. You can ask them to envision themselves in the shoes of your beneficiaries, which can inspire empathy and compassion.
You want your audience to keep its attention firmly on what you have to say. With these engagement ideas, you can reel them into the conversation and spark their interest.
3. Emphasize clear takeaways.
This might seem obvious, but your presentation should have a clear point. Don’t try to explore multiple themes and ideas. Keep the primary focus on one central idea and give your audience members something they can remember after they leave your presentation.
Be Brilliant Presentation Group recommends using a Do-Remember-Feel ending to provide clear, actionable takeaways. Create a conclusion that emphasizes what you want your audience to:
- Do: Provide a clear next step for something your audience can do directly after the presentation. For example, if you’re speaking to donors, you might provide a QR code that sends them to your online donation page. Or, if you’re speaking to staff members, you might have them update internal processes directly after your meeting.
- Remember: Leave audience members with one final valuable insight. This might be the conclusion of a story you began telling at the beginning of your presentation or a final striking statistic that makes them think about something differently.
- Feel: Design an ending that leaves audience members with a lasting feeling. For example, you might end with a quote from a well-known leader or a beneficiary your organization has helped. Concluding with a strong feeling provides an emotional connection to your presentation as well as an intellectual one.
Whether you’re speaking to grantmakers or a group of volunteers, your presentation’s conclusion should leave audiences feeling inspired or energized to take action.
4. Choose effective visuals.
Incorporating visual content into your presentation is a great way to maintain audience members’ attention and demonstrate key concepts using more than just words.
However, the visuals you choose have as much power to distract attendees from your main message as they do to support it. That’s why you should carefully choose photos and other visuals to ensure they supplement your presentation.
Examples of compelling visuals include:
- Photos of people, such as volunteers at a work day or beneficiaries using your nonprofit’s services
- Infographics or simple charts that explain data results, such as your donor growth rate or supporter retention rate
- Short video clips from your nonprofit’s events or volunteer opportunities
If you use any graphic designs within your presentation, be sure to keep these images simple. TopNonprofits’ guide to nonprofit graphic design recommends practicing minimalism. According to the guide, minimalism “underscores the importance of a clean, crisp, and cohesive style.” Use clean lines, cohesive colors, and simple text descriptions to make your graphics easy to read and interpret.
5. Practice every aspect of your presentation.
Contrary to popular belief, practice doesn’t always make perfect. Perfection is hard to attain, and it shouldn’t be your main goal anyway. As you practice your presentation, focus on simply getting more comfortable with your material and using your visual aids to guide audience members through your main points.
To help reduce slip-ups on presentation day, practice every aspect of your presentation, such as:
- Delivery of the visuals. Practice moving through your slides or visual aids and matching your speech's rhythm to the slides' timing.
- Audience engagement and props. Ask a friend or colleague to act as an audience member as you practice your presentation so that you can visualize how your audience interaction will go.
- Body language and facial expressions. Practice making intentional facial expressions and relax your body language to convey confidence.
Practicing every aspect of your presentation will help you feel more comfortable on presentation day. Audience members can tell the difference between a hastily rehearsed presentation and a carefully polished one, so the extra effort you put in will pay off.
Developing public speaking skills will not only help you make a name for yourself as a compelling presenter. It will also help you tell your nonprofit’s story more effectively to donors, grantmakers, volunteers, and other audiences. In turn, you’ll drive more value for your mission.
You can apply these tips to any type of presentation and audience, giving you a core set of strategies to use when it comes time to write a presentation. Good luck!