Easy Ways to Make Your Presentations Inclusive For Great Audience Engagement

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As conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become more present in the workplace and society, it’s vital to reflect on how you can apply these principles to your presentations so you don’t get left behind. A report from 2022 found that all Fortune 100 companies have DEI initiatives in place, and these principles continue to gain momentum in businesses across the nation.

Implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies can be challenging, especially for public speakers and presenters. If you’ve been challenged with creating presentations that reflect current standards for DEI, use these four tips to easily uplevel your presentation’s inclusivity quotient. The added bonus? DEI-aware presentations increase audience engagement, which if you’ve been reading our blog, you already know should be top-of-mind for any presentation!

Why DEI Awareness is Important

DEI strategy and implementation are all about making your audience feel welcome and allowing them to be engaged with your content by using language, content, and images that they can understand, respect, and personally connect with. You’ll also want to avoid design decisions, language, and assumptions that will alienate them or make your presentation difficult for them to understand.

Ultimately, a well-formed presentation takes diversity, equity, and inclusion into account to ensure the audience can properly comprehend and feel personally connected with the content. The bottom line for you is that when the Call to Action comes into play, their emotions will be engaged with the story you have taken them on rather than the ways your presentation may have alienated them. Definitely a win-win!

4 Ways to Make Your Presentations Inclusive

Implementing DEI in your presentation involves using language and actions that respect your audience. Review your slides, script, and materials to ensure you’re implementing these four best practices, and you will naturally have made your presentation inclusive.

1. Show diversity in your image selections.

The images in your presentation should reflect diversity across race, gender, age, ability, and the identities a person may align with. Images are a powerful way to represent others and include them in conversations. Implementing diversity in the images used for your presentation can make people feel recognized and accepted. This simple practice acknowledges your audience’s unique experiences are valuable to you and the conversation you’re having with them–and you definitely want your audience members to feel that they are a part of the conversation.

As you add images to your presentation, avoid doing so as a result of performative diversity. Performative diversity, or performative allyship, is disingenuous to your audience. When people perceive a presenter as dishonest, it can not only lead to feelings of exclusion for the very people you were attempting to include, but it can lead to a feeling of mistrust from your wider audience as well.

**The bottom line: Include images that incorporate members from a variety of walks of life in a way that is natural to your subject matter and audience. Don’t be superfluous in your selections.

2. Refrain from gendered language.

Gendered language refers to using pronouns or nouns that exclusively refer to men or women. Gendered language can exclude audience members who do not identify as that gender. While the default in business language has been to use male-centered language, it may not be appropriate to use this if presenting to a group including a variety of genders and identities.

For example, the phrase “hey guys” can exclude non-male-identifying audience members. Instead of gendered language, try using gender-neutral language. For example, use “everyone” or “folks” instead of “guys.” Whatever you choose, be sure you do it in a natural way that isn’t calling undue attention and making it a distraction from your storytelling.

There is one exception to this rule, and that is when you know your audience will be exclusively one gender identity. For example, if you know your audience is entirely women and you have no interest in marketing to men before you present, you may find it more appropriate and inclusive to your audience to use female-centered language and photos. As with all of your presentations and content, creating a bespoke audience experience that makes them feel you are speaking directly with them should always be your number one goal. However, if you’re unsure about your audience composition, opt for gender-neutral language.

**The bottom line: Tailor your language to your audience in a way that comes across as natural and relaxed, and when in doubt about your audience composition, go gender-neutral.

3. Avoid stereotypes and racial colloquialisms.

Specific terms or phrases could unintentionally reinforce harmful stereotypes about people. Many common expressions in the English language have discriminatory origins, like “peanut gallery”. This term originally referred to the people in the upper balconies or less desirable seats in vaudeville theaters, which were often working-class, immigrant, or Jim Crow sections. Although many people associate this phrase with the popular 1940-50s television program, “Howdy Doody”, its origins are sensitive and it is best to avoid colloquialisms like these. Be conscious of unintentional biases that could appear in a presentation or script that take the form of gendered language, terms, jokes, and comments referring to historically marginalized people.

If you plan to tell jokes or use common colloquialisms during your presentation, ensure they do not enforce adverse stereotypes about people. If the joke or comment puts down, derogates, or associates negative traits with a group of people or a specific person, it is harmful and best to leave out. If you’re unsure about phrases that have been commonly used in the past, a quick internet search can be very helpful, but again, if in doubt, just replacing your phrase or word with something you can feel confident about is not insensitive.

**The bottom line: When in doubt of their origins, avoid jokes that play to stereotypes, words, or phrases that have racist or derogatory roots.

4. Make your presentation accessible to people with disabilities.

As a presenter, you should not assume audience members will be able to see, hear, or participate in the same way. However, since all audience members should have the same experience engaging with your content, it is crucial to create an accessible presentation so your entire audience can experience it fully and have the opportunity to engage with your story.

Making your presentation accessible to people with visual impairments primarily relies on the features of your slide deck design and ensuring all audience members will be able to experience your speech in some form. Design-wise, opt for a slide deck design that is clean and simple and uses properly contrasting colors. Avoid bright or light shade for text, and ensure the contrast is sufficient between your background and text, charts, and tables. Use clean and legible fonts, and be sure to offer verbal explanations for tables and charts. While speaking to the audience, avoid verbiage like “As you can see on this slide…” or “Look here.”

Presenters know how important it is for the audience to hear and understand what they are saying. For audience members who are hard of hearing or deaf, it’s vital to offer them the same experience as other audience members. Since the most effective presentations rely on the speaker’s words rather than what’s on the screen, some helpful accommodations are to use a microphone, to speak clearly (enunciate), and to ensure your tempo is not rushed. Even if you project your voice, your audience may not understand you, so when possible, provide an interpreter or ask for one to be present if you know an audience member uses sign language. If you plan to provide activities along with your presentation, print instructions and offer alternative explanations or helpers to provide one-on-one guidance, if necessary. Just be sure to do your best to do this in a way that does not make anyone feel centered by the additional support.

**The bottom line: Be sure your design is following accessibility standards and that you provide the proper audio and visual additions to allow for your entire audience to fully experience your presentation.

Diversity, equity, and inclusivity are important to consider because they relay mutual respect for your entire audience and their experience. Thoroughly reviewing your presentation and ensuring that it is equally accessible for everyone informs your audience that you respect them and builds trust in you as a presenter and representative of your industry.

If you have not considered DEI strategies in the past and are concerned that you may be alienating your audience by missing the boat on equitably engaging them, reach out to a DEI consultant. It’s a great way to have your presentation reviewed by a specialist with an in-depth understanding of how to best make your presentation inclusive. Their suggestions will ensure your current presentation is fully accessible, and it will teach you a lot about what you can avoid or include in your future presentations to uplevel your presentation for your entire audience.

If you feel confident with your content but want to ensure your design is visually-inclusive and beautifully designed to present your information, please reach out to book a consultation call with me today!