Are you presenting at an upcoming nonprofit conference? Perhaps your organization has empowered you to share your mission as the designated storyteller for your cause. This can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking opportunity.

Planning a successful conference presentation goes beyond just hitting your primary talking points. To drive your message home, it’s important to think of original, unexpected ways to connect with and engage your audience on a deeper level.

To help you get started, we’ve come up with five conference presentation tips to engage your audience in a unique way:

  1. Start with a story
  2. Conduct an imagination exercise
  3. Take an audience poll
  4. Talk about your failures
  5. Provide clear takeaways

Nailing your next conference presentation starts with understanding your audience, so be sure to research the attendees ahead of time to understand who you’ll be speaking to. See if you can view a list of participants on the conference website or Facebook event page to start gathering information on your target audience. Then, adapt these ideas based on what you know about your audience’s interests and motivations.

1. Start with a story

If you start your presentation by launching into hard data, you might unintentionally lose your audience’s attention right off the bat. Ease attendees into your message by starting your presentation with a story.

According to Be Brilliant Presentation Group, “storytelling in a presentation uses examples, anecdotes, and narratives to bring the information you’re sharing to life.”

Choose the right protagonist for your story. A compelling main character could be a constituent or a long-time supporter. Identify someone who has a deep connection to your cause and a story that reflects your mission. Include direct quotes and images when possible.

For example, let’s say your nonprofit helps local high school students gain confidence and nutrition knowledge through an afterschool program. You might tell the story of a student, Kaitlyn, who fully embraced the program and even won a local competition for growing the biggest pumpkin (which you’d include a photo of in your presentation slides).

Wrap up your presentation by calling back to your story and providing a satisfying conclusion or “where are they now” update. For instance, perhaps Kaitlyn is now in college studying food science and credits your program for sparking her interest in agriculture.

2. Conduct an imagination exercise

An imagination exercise helps audience members picture themselves within the story you’re telling. This can be a compelling way to inspire empathy and compassion for your cause.

Ask audience members to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or to think of a time when they’ve been impacted by your nonprofit’s mission or issue area. Or, you can ask them to picture a world in which the issue your nonprofit fights is running rampant.

For example, if your organization is focused on fighting climate change at the local level, you might ask audiences to picture a world where native species in your area have gone extinct or local lakes aren’t safe to swim in.

Keep in mind that the point is not to put audiences into a doom-and-gloom mindset, but instead to inspire action. Make sure to end your exercise on a hopeful note and provide plenty of positive next steps audience members can take.

3. Take an audience poll

You can also effectively engage audience members and maintain their active attention by taking a poll or asking audience members questions. Ask for a show of hands or ask attendees to provide an example of a time they’ve experienced a similar situation.

If your presentation is virtual, you can ask attendees to “raise their hands” using the tools and emojis available through your live streaming platform. They can also send questions and responses in the chat.

4. Talk about your failures

Every nonprofit professional knows that managing a nonprofit is not all sunshine and rainbows all the time. Being candid about your nonprofit’s challenges will build your credibility and trustworthiness with your audience.

It can be refreshing for conference attendees to hear about a time when your nonprofit tried something new and failed. The lessons learned from these situations can be more valuable than takeaways from times when it was smooth sailing for your organization.

For example, you might discuss how your nonprofit maintained positive donor stewardship after a crisis or how you tried a new marketing approach that didn’t quite pan out, but learned valuable lessons about the best ways to connect with supporters along the way.

5. Provide clear takeaways

Nonprofit conference attendees are there to learn from you. You can help them leave your presentation with valuable insights by outlining clear takeaways at the end of your speech.

For example, you might highlight information such as:

  • Next actions audience members can take at their own organizations, such as strategies they can implement or new processes to try
  • Resources such as books, podcasts, or websites that attendees can review for more information
  • Your contact information so attendees can reach out with follow-up questions

Attendees will appreciate your efforts to help them continue their education. You can even let them know they can message you if they need assistance working through issues or implementing your recommendations.

Taking the time to plan out engaging elements will make your conference presentation stand out and give attendees a greater understanding of the subject matter. An engaging, informative presentation also helps boost your nonprofit’s reputation and improve the chances that you’ll be invited to present at other conferences.