Good Presentation Skills: Make it Sensory-Friendly

What are the qualities of good presentations?

Presenting a workshop or at a conference is an acquired skill. Even more so online and virtually.  For instance, you likely remember a presentation when you struggled to pay attention.

Learn how to give a sensory-friendly presentation.  Being sensory-friendly is important for presentation skills. In addition, follow these effective presentation techniques to engage with your audience.  Furthermore, it will help them pay attention. Moreover, actually learn from you. And finally, they will enjoy your presentation.

Make your presentation sensory-friendly: pay attention to your audience’s eight senses.  For example, you are probably thinking about what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  Nevertheless, there are three more senses including movement, balance, and interoception to understand.

Back side view of a business person looking at a computer presentation.

What the audience sees

The most important presentation tip is to always include slides.  A sensory-friendly presentation always has slides. Moreover, good ones at that. As an example, show the days’ agenda on a slide. Furthermore, for in-person events, tell people where to find the toilets. For instance, you can visually display this information on a location map. Show it on screen.

Good slide examples are below. In addition, there is a slide with too much information. Slides should include something to read. Alternatively, numbered points or bullets to review. Or, a video, picture and/or graphic to look at.  However, do not include all of that together. Because your audience has different learning styles.  Some people understand by reading words. Whereas others understand by looking at a video, picture, or a graphic. Finally, some people are digital learners. They learn best with numbers or lists.

To sum up, do not put all the information on one slide. Break up the information you share. Below, in contrast, is a slide with everything on it.  It is too busy. Moreover, hard to understand.

Key points about good presentation skills for visual learners:

  1. Less is more.
  2. Simple is better than fancy.
  3. Do not write out the whole sentence you read. Unless it is a direct quote.
  4. Show points, bullets, lists.
  5. Use as few words as possible
  6. Use simple, easy-to-read fonts like Calibri, Arial or Helvetica.
  7. Keep the same font throughout.
  8. Include lots of white space.
  9. Put as little as possible on each slide.
  10. Use aa big font size.
  11. Always sentence case, or upper and lower case. It is easier to read.
  12. Bold to mark emphasis.
  13. No underline or italics; harder to read.
  15. Use easy to read color combinations:
    1. black on white
    2. white on black
    3. black on yellow
Infographic illustrating 3 ways to improve a presentation for visual learners.

Why is this important?   75% of adults use some sort of vision correction to see. As a result, 4 billion adults wear glasses in the world.  First, many people have different learning styles. Second people need to read, look at, review or watch something to understand. However, most adults need to correct their vision.  Furthermore, glasses do not always correct vision to 20/20.  Some adults need to correct for both near vision and far vision. So make your slides easy to see and easy to read.

Visual learners who like images:

Woman holding glasses in front of her.

 Visual learners who like digital information:

Slide that states that 75% need to use vision correction.

 Too much information on one slide:

Picture of slide show and person holding glasses.

 What the audience hears

In the next presentation skills example, learn about what the audience hears.  For good presentation skills it is critical to both show and tell information together.

A bad audio presentation skills example.

I was recently at a full-day conference, in a school gymnasium.  There were over 100 people there. In this case, I was an exhibitor, and the exhibits lined the gym. Presenters spoke for 1 hour and 15-minute time slots.  One of the afternoon presenters was a respected, renowned journalist.  He had an amazing story to share.  Although I am sure he was a compelling storyteller, I was not able to understand his presentation.  Despite my hearing aids turned up to “full”, and even though he had a microphone, I could barely hear a word he said.  I quietly leaned over at one point to the exhibitor next to me, and she relayed that she couldn’t hear anything he said either.  We were in a large, high gym not designed for presentations.  While there was an audio system but it was crackling and scratchy.  Besides, it was not powerful enough for the size of the room. Moreover the quality was not clear. Additionally, the presenter had no slides to accompany what he was saying. Thus he had no aids for visual learners. Even if he was speaking to the audio learners in the room, they couldn’t hear him!

Microphone and audio system

Critically, ensure you have a good quality microphone.  If you are talking to 10 people, maybe you do not need one.  On the other hand, talking to a group larger than that?  Get a microphone and potentially consider using one even for a small group.

According to National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million people ) aged 12 years or older have hearing loss in both ears 1. That is a lot of people! Many, if not most adults who have hearing loss, do not have hearing aids.  I can tell you from personal experience, and as someone who has the best possible hearing aids in the world and only mild to moderate hearing loss, hearing aids do not give me a normal hearing experience!

Do you think asking the room if they can hear you is reliable?  It is not as most people are shy.  Also, you typically only say a few words to gauge the audience. Simply asking, “can everyone hear me alright?” is not a long enough statement to truly test.

If you are presenting online, get a headset with a microphone so your voice is directed to your virtual audience.  The speakers on your laptop are more likely to pick up other sounds.

Key points about good presentation skills for audio learners:

  1. Tell a story.
  2. Better yet, show and tell your story.
  3. Make sure your story is heard by using a good quality microphone.

What the audience tastes

Yes, you read that right.  The importance of presentation skills includes the sense of taste.  So, ask the conference organizers to ensure that water and candy is on the tables for the audience.  Furthermore, the longer the presentation, workshop or conference, the more this is needed and will be appreciated!  Moreover, giving people something to drink and a little snack will help them pay attention with a little mouth break.

Give your audience and yourself online regular water breaks too!  Encourage them to have something to eat or drink if needed.  You can ask people to mute while they are eating or drinking.

What the audience feels

Your sense of touch is also important for good presentation skills.  First you learned about visual learners. Then you learned about audio leaners. Furthermore, some learners are tactile. They learn best through doing. They do not learn by watching or listening.  Tactile learners need to touch and feel something to remember.  So, if you have a prop that you can pass around the audience, include it.  Online, think of asking your audience to do something with their hands.  Give them a task like jotting down a note. Alternatively, ask them to drawing something to capture an idea.

Furthermore, always provide your slides so that people can print them out. Alternatively to save them.  Extend the same courtesy for your online participants.  Go green. But understand that some people need to print for accessibility. Who wants a printout?  It doesn’t have to be everyone.  But have the option. The act of writing, touching a pen or pencil and putting it down on paper, helps some people understand. It helps them to remember. On the other hand, if you don’t want to print, have them available in digital format.  Tactile learners can have them on-screen. They can type their notes too!

A great touch/tactile example.

One of the best presentations I’ve attended is where the presenter gave out sheets of paper, divided us into partners of two and had us teach each other how to make a paper airplane.  She was presenting on specific skills about teaching and learning.  Additionally, the presenter admitted that it was her first time presenting to a crowd of about 150.  She was a fantastic presenter.  We will all remember her presentation.  She told us what she wanted us to do.   Then she showed us a video of herself.  Finally, we all got something to touch and feel and do.  Think of how easy it is to ask participants online to have a piece of paper ready in advance.

Key points about tactile learners

Infographic illustrating 4 tips to create a presentation for tactile learners.
  1. Give out props or samples to touch and feel.
  2. Have an option to print so they can write notes.
  3. At least, give out paper and pencils. Alternatively, ask participants to have them ready for a virtual presentation.
  4. Have an option to type notes.

What the audience smells

Smell is one of our primal senses.  You develop our sense of smell very early on, in utero at about 10 weeks.  For instance, ever been to a workshop where there is a bad smell in the room?  You can likely think of nothing else!  On the other hand, even being to a workshop when lunch is served in the same room?  Once it arrives, the audience is captivated!  By the smell. Unfortunately, not the presenter.  Consequently, presenters communicate with conference organizers.  Therefore manage smells and scents as part of your effective presentation skills. Go scent-free.  If you are presenting online, add a question that asks your participant about scent. Make them recall a particular scent as part of your presentation.  This will help them make a power connection to their memory.

Get the audience to move

Your audience has a sense of movement.  Once again, the longer your presentation, the overall workshop or conference, the more you need to get the audience to move.

Under the senses of touch section above, you learned a presentation skills tip to allow participants to write or type.  Therefore, presentation notes in print or digital form also gets participants to move as they write. Or, type.

Movement breaks

Give your audience a movement break.  You are likely standing and walking during your presentation in person making it easy for you to keep attention!   However, how many adults are accustomed to sitting for long periods? Think about it. At presentations you often sit in uncomfortable chairs. Moreover, you listing to long presentations. Delight your audience by asking them to stand up ½ way through.  This is great for presentation skills on-line or in real life. Furthermore, ask them to walk around their desk. Their table. Give them this 1-minute break to move.

Movement breaks are simple to add online.  Get everyone to stand up and move together at regular intervals for terrific presentation skills.

Get your audience to use their sense of balance

Accelerate your type of presentation skills even further by getting your audience to use their sense of balance.  And most importantly, to move their head.  Besides, the longer they sit in one position and keep their head focused on you or a screen, the harder it will for them to attend.  Especially if you are presenting for more than one-hour. For instance, incorporate a few moves of chair yoga or chair stretches.  You can do so at the beginning. Alternatively, in the middle of your presentation. Finally, consider at the end of your presentation.  This works well both in-person and online.  As an example, here are some a easy to lead and follow chair stretches.

The final sense is interoception

This is the most critical aspect of good presentation skills and a good presenter.  It is likely the first time you are hearing about interoception.  Interoception is your eighth sense, an internal body sense, internal organ sense.  It tells you if you are hungry or thirsty.  Furthermore, it tells you when you need to go to the toilet.  So as a presenter, make sure you, your conference or workshop organizers have nutrition breaks at regular intervals.  Leading a group online? Schedule a bio break every hour or hour and a half.

Water on the table and candy were noted above.  You can let people know that they need to brown bag it and bring their own food!  But allow people to eat and drink. Sure, ask them to mute online.  Give your audience regular toilet breaks. Furthermore, make sure you go too!  Sometimes there are line ups at in-person events.  For instance, do you remember trying to pay attention if you have to go to the toilet?  It does not happen. To sum up, be healthy!

Person in suit standing giving a presentation.

2 checklists with key presentation skill reminders.

Presenters checklist an in-person event:

  • Is there a large screen easily visible to everyone in the room?
  • Is there more than one screen if the room is large?
  • Will there be a good quality audio system?
  • Is the microphone on a podium or is there a lapel mic?
  • Will they make the presentation available in print or digital format in advance or at the time of the presentation to the audience?
  • What is the agenda or schedule?  Are there adequate bio breaks and nutrition breaks?
  • Is water available?  And possibly candy too on the tables?
  • Three key things at the very least:  Does the presenter show, tell and get people to move?

Organizer checklist.

  • Slides are a must.  No exceptions.
  • Are slides easy to read?  Direct them to this resource for help.
  • Give your presenters feedback about their presentation in advance.
  • Let them know they are expected to use a microphone.
  • Tell them about the agenda.  Ensure they respect the time of their talk.
  • Be ready to stop them if they go over.  Practice a kind script. 
  • In conclusion, be respectful of your audience and their time and ability to maintain interest.

Presenting as part of a trade show in real life or online? Find awesome ideas for a sensory-friendly trade show.

Maybe you are presenting as part of a special event? Make the event itself sensory-friendly too!

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  1. Quick Statistics About Hearing. (2021). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
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