I have found the best way to lose an audience is to focus on statistical derivation. While this is a fascinating subject for me, it just doesn’t seem to hold an audience’s attention.
Having something interesting and useful to say is key to maintaining an audience’s attention, yet at times how we present helps them become distracted.
So, given great content or proposal, how can you help your audience not quickly check their phone, yet again?
Note: four of the five ideas below were gleaned from the article “What to Do When You’re Losing Your Audience During a Presentation,” by Dorie Clark.
Great Content, Clear Presentation
Keep in mind that your presentation slides are not the report or proposal. You do not and should not include everything on the slides. The slide deck is to support you in delivering the results or recommendations.
Print and hand out the details and background. Those interested will read it later.
Focus your presentation to just the essential elements, the key points, the salient findings, or the coming decision.
If you only had 30 seconds to make your point, what would you say and show? Start with this kernel when building your presentation and only add material when absolutely essential.
If given 30 minutes to present – it is ok to only need 5 or 10 minutes to make your point. It is not ok to jam 2 hours of material into the 30 minutes time slot.
See Nancy Durante’s work for ideas on how to create a persuasive presentation.
See Carmen Simon’s work for ideas on creating memorable content.
Move from Behind the Podium
Years ago I learned there are three locations essential to make a great presentation. The lecture spot, the story or analogy spot, and the discussion/question spot. These three locations should be distinct location on the stage area, or off the stage, that you consistently use such that it helps your audience engage with you.
When I moved to the discussion spot the first time, I asked a question or asked for questions. The second time I went to that spot, the audience immediately got ready to participate and many hands went up to ask questions.
Your gestures can and should include your entire body. Move, make eye contact, smile, and engage your audience. Essential take them on a walk with you. It helps me to relax and speak as if to a good friend while walking through a park.
Pause or Speak Softer for Emphasis
One of my high school math teachers inflicted us with a dry monotone – you may have endured such a class.
The ability to pause (just hold up your hand and break eye contact to prevent interruptions) alters the flow of information. It can signal a change of topic or the emphasis of a key point or phrase.
The best delivery of a business story I ever did ended with me speaking in nearly a whisper – the audience of 25 simultaneously leaned forward to hear the key point.
Breaks and changes also help to provide structure to your presentation – just as moving to the question spot signals an invitation for discussion, pausing can signal a change in topic.
One note on pausing: when you pause your speaking also freeze (don’t move) which helps keep your voice and body language in sync.
In general keep pausing and very soft voice use to just the absolute essential or key points – if every sentence included a pause, it would quickly become annoying.
Change Up The Pacing
Similar to pausing, yet a bit more subtle is to speak faster or slower at times.
A simple example: when telling a brief story about rushing to catch a train, please don’t speak very slowly. It is inconsistent with the story image the words are creating.
An advanced example: increase the delivery pace as building arguments supporting your recommendation, then shift to a slower pacing when presenting your recommendation.
Like pausing, use abrupt change in pacing judiciously, a little goes a long way. Avoid set patterns which may have the effect of sound a bit too contrived.
Tell a Story or Analogy
A story might be just one sentence or a quick antidote. It may provide a rationale for an idea or view of a problem, or it may provide a suitable framework that helps your audience relate to the topic.
You are not presenting just the facts as that could certainly be in a report not requiring a live presentation or discussion. You are presenting the story of the data, the meaning of the results, the tradeoffs around a recommended course of action.
If discussing a major risk, well describe a similar well-understood risk that provides a relatable reference. If mentioning a large number, ground it with a similar size of something others can picture.
Any story or analogy has to help move your presentation along towards the key point or recommendation. Also, a well-told story also does not need an explanation. You do not need to detail the morale of the story as in a fable.
These tips will help you become a great presenter. If and only if you practice and get feedback. Let someone you trust to provide honest feedback know what you are ‘practicing’, say the use of pausing. Then sit down with them to listen to the feedback. What worked what didn’t. Listen, think, and improve.
For some presenters it seems all of these actions come naturally – it can for you as well with practice.
Sure there is more to crafting and delivering an attention-grabbing presentation, yet these few ideas may reinforce what you already do well or suggest ways to improve your skill.
You may also find the Speaking of Reliability podcast episode, “The Soft Skill of Making Memorable Presentations” of interest.