The Anatomy of an #Engaging Presentation

Earlier this week, I taught a “Master Class” at the CFA Institute’s Annual Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Approximately 400 people attended my session, which was organized as two 60-minute talks about “Demographics, Incomes and Global Value Chains” separated by a 30-minute coffee break.


Given the CFA Institute’s increasing focus on social media, I sought to encourage the use of Twitter during my session. I began by making the event’s “hashtag” (#FutureFinance) easily visible on my opening slide (click HERE) and by then providing the audience both my (@mansharamani) and the organizer’s (@cfainstitute) Twitter handles. Next, I offered a prize (my book) to the person who had the most interesting tweet as determined by the session’s moderator (click HERE).   And lastly, I thought it might prove useful to actually provide examples of tweets so I added “Tweet Idea” boxes within my presentation and wove social media into my delivery.

I began my talk with a picture of the audience and immediately tweeted it (click HERE). The event organizers reinforced these efforts as well (click HERE). I made reference to 2 unique facts during my first hour and encouraged the audience to share those facts. I had no idea if anyone cared or noticed.

The first thing I did when the break began was to turn on my laptop.  I was stunned by what I saw! My Twitter account had hundreds of notifications, I had picked up dozens of new followers, and here’s the really valuable part, I was able to get real time feedback from the audience. For instance, I noticed there were tons of questions about the virtual water (click HERE) content of jeans. I joined the conversation and answered questions, shared some of the more interesting tweets, and even provided backup material about water consumption in denim production.


After the break, I informed the audience that I had joined the conversation and posted backup material, for instance, on the water content of denim jeans. I pointed the audience online for more details, encouraging continued participation.   Throughout the session, event staff were gathering handwritten questions and passing them to the moderator.

By the end of my session, I turned to answering questions. In prior sessions with similar audiences, I would have had 5-10 questions waiting.   Not so this time. Rather than diminishing the “in-room” engagement (as I had feared), the Twitter discussion had actually intensified it – when I looked at the moderator, she was holding an inch-thick stack of question cards – 10x what I had expected!

After my session, when I finally returned online, I was thrilled by what I found. My tweet with backup material about jeans (click HERE) had almost 300 engagements and over 10,000 impressions, meaning the conversation had expanded both within as well as outside the room. By contrast, my opening tweet with the audience picture had 12 engagements and 245 impressions.

People had asked (and answered) each other’s questions. Supporting data was shared about countries I hadn’t considered (click HERE). New areas of confusion had been raised; others had been clarified. The audience extrapolated my discussion about unrest from food insecurity to riot risk from medical and education inflation (click HERE). Another participant introduced how China was outsourcing work to Ethiopia, reinforcing my claim that value chains shift over time (click HERE). As an educator, I was absolutely thrilled!

Social Connections

People who had never been on Twitter signed up to join the discussion. (If someone at Twitter is reading this, please tell Dick Costello to send my commission check to the CFA Institute Research Foundation!) Folks from around the world literally joined our conversation in Frankfurt, including one woman who was unable to attend in-person for medical reasons.

It was like having a strong critic in the back of the room sharing her reaction to my delivery slide by slide – only better. I could also see reactions to reactions. I could see which of my comments resonated, and which were duds.

So what did I learn from this experience? I learned that online engagement doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, effort, coordination, and careful execution. I used a prize and even wove social media into my presentation to encourage participation. I joined the conversation during a break, answered questions, provided backup material, and reacted and shared interesting points. The organizers were highly engaged, both in the room and online. They reinforced my efforts and multiplied my impact. Ultimately, I believe the audience (and organizers) left the room more engaged, informed, and energized by my presentation because of social media. I know I did.