7 Trends in Public Speaking and Presentations (Part 1)

Presentations have changed a lot since the days of clip art. The Public Speaker walks you through the latest trends in public speaking and presentations in the first part of this mini-series.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #227

Ahhh…the ‘90s.

It was the decade of AOL email, Windows 97, 3.5” floppy discs, and blue suits with white shirts in the boardroom. We’ve come a long way since then. And yet, despite all of our advances, I saw what looked like Windows 97 clip art on a PowerPoint slide just yesterday! I’m pretty sure the presenter didn’t intend to lead her audience on a mindtrip back in time to presentation dinosaur age. .

On the other hand, at a conference just a few months ago, the guy on stage was wearing a shirt with just one word on it: “Collaborate.” There was no lectern, no microphone, and he didn’t use any slides. His hip “unpresentation” was engaging, inspiring, and fun. It also got me thinking about changes in the presentation landscape. In this two-part series, I’ll look at where we came from and where we’re headed in the world of public speaking. Part 1 focuses on general trends in presentation style. Part 2 will dig into the latest trends in presentation technology.

Here are the 7 trends I’m seeing in presentation style right now:

Trend #1: Corporate (and Presentations) Are Going Casual

Remember Casual Fridays? When only Fridays were casual, and by casual we meant a pair of khaki pants? That trend is quickly being replaced with a new one reflective of some common themes in today’s presentations: approachability, likability, and trustworthiness. In increasing numbers, we’re more likely to like and trust someone who looks like they are visiting us in our home than someone dressed for a formal interview.

In fact I’ve even noticed presentation rooms becoming more casual, with couches, stand-up bar tables, and conversation areas, in addition to typical seating. 

Not only are clothing and presentation rooms becoming more casual, language choice is also more casual.  I’ve even seen a trend for men (and on very rare occasions women) to use profanity during presentations.  Although, I’m not easily offended by foul language, it can be tricky to use profanity in just the right way that adds to, rather than detracting from, the success of the presentation. Used incorrectly it can significantly damage the personal brand and influence of the speaker. This is one trend I recommend skipping.

Trend #2: Audiences Are Demanding Participation

Today, audiences don’t want to just be observers, they want to be part of the presentation. As professional speakers often say, “Audiences don’t want a sage on the stage, audiences want a guide at their side.” Audience members want to be able to share their reactions, ideas, and comments during the presentation. Thankfully, as a result, presentations, even to large groups, have become much more interactive and engaging.

In fact, over the past two year’s I’ve noticed much more interest in my webinar, 12.5 Ideas to Engage Your Audience; which to me is encouraging. I’ve also noticed more presenters asking people to tweet or live blog key ideas, thoughts, and questions during their presentation. And, in some cases, speakers are working harder to engage even the quietest members of the audience and use audience feedback to drive the direction of the presentation. (In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk a bit more the technology they are using to do that).

Are you a Smart Talker?  Take the Smart Talk Quiz to find out!

Trend #3: Focused Presentations with Smaller Audiences

In addition to increased interactivity, conference organizers are asking speakers to deliver more focused keynotes and breakout sessions. Successful speakers today hyper-focus on 3, and only 3, actionable, evidence-based ideas so that attendees can remember and derive real value from their presentations. General, feel-good, presentations packed with platitudes are no longer effective.

Smaller audiences are being invited to more intimate settings to elevate the depth of connections between attendees and also between attendees and the speaker.

Also, smaller audiences are being invited to more intimate settings to elevate the depth of connections between attendees and also between attendees and the speaker.  The hope of organizers is to elicit buy-in from this elite, influencial group who will then promote the ideas to their network. As this trend grows, it appears this small group approach is growing in effectiveness.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.