Great presentations communicate information that audiences can retain and act on. As a presenter, it is crucial that you capture your audience’s attention for as long as it takes so your message can resonate. Many people have to present at some point in their career–whether its for a client pitch, an internal presentation, a job interview or a presentation to your team, it’s critical to be engaging, be articulate, and memorable.
As you plan your presentation, there are several key steps you can take to make sure that it’s engaging and “sticky” throughout. If you use slides, they should be stylish, eye-catching, and appropriate for your presentation’s content and tone. (If you are not an experienced presentation designer, collaborate with one – contact Artisan if you need help in this area.) Here are more tips that professionals use to make their presentations engaging, entertaining, and effective.
Plan Your Presentation in Ten-Minute Chunks
In her essential book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D., claims that the maximum amount of time a presenter can assume their audience will stay engaged is about seven to ten minutes. And, that’s if they’re interested in the speaker and the subject matter.
“A typical presentation is longer than seven to ten minutes,” Weinschenk writes. “Presentations are often an hour long. This means you have to find ways to make changes at least every seven minutes in order to get people to pay attention. It’s easy, as the presenter, to forget that your audience’s attention may be waning. As the presenter, you are having a very different experience than your audience: You have adrenaline flowing because you are on stage, you are in the throes of performance, and you are physically moving. The members of your audience, on the other hand, are sitting in chairs, and their minds are easily wandering.”
In order to work with this tendency, plan “mini-breaks” into the structure of your presentation, at 7-to-10-minute intervals. These could be pauses for Q&A, stretch breaks, interactive activities, games, or transitions, such as stories or noticeable shifts in tone. If you plan for natural ebbs in attention, work with the nature of your audience’s minds, rather than against it.
People are naturally bored by the expected and routine. Our brains are designed to tune out familiar signals so we can focus on what’s new, relevant, exciting, important, and even potentially dangerous.
When your audience sits down for your presentation, they do so with certain expectations. To get and hold their attention, try to confound those expectations in whatever way is appropriate for the setting and material.
This could mean experimenting with your format and structure, explaining your material in a novel way, using personal stories, displaying vulnerability, or working in jokes and humor. (If you don’t think you’re a comedian, you should know that being funny is a skill you can learn and practice. Books such as The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by Jon Vorhaus and Step-By-Step to Stand-Up Comedy by Greg Dean can change your professional life, even if you don’t plan to take your act to the Catskills.)
Read the Room
One of the most important skills of a stand-up comedian is the ability to “read the room,” or call out situations that are happening in their surroundings. This disarms potential distractions by making them a part of the show, rather than a competing stimulus.
For example, if the room is hot and everyone is hungry, it won’t help to pretend these things aren’t true. Instead, make a joke out of them, or relate them to your material somehow. Anything that is already on your audience’s minds is a source of material. Being explicit about it breaks the tension, goes against expectations, and may even get a laugh.
Keep It Simple
Even if your topic is very complex or abstract, your presentation must be simple. If you overload your audience with information, they won’t retain any of it. They will pay more attention when they are confident they will be able to digest the material.
In your slides, use short, simple sentences and lists with numbers or bullet points. Communicate in pictures, sounds, and feelings. If there is too much material to effectively cover, provide a URL for those interested to do more research and get the longer version of the story. (If you use a special “tracking URL,” this can also be useful for digital marketing purposes.)
Being a compelling presenter isn’t just for politicians, rock stars, and TED Talkers – it’s an important skill for every creative professional. Fortunately, almost anyone can learn it. If you want to also improve your public speaking skills, you can contact Toastmasters for classes near you.
Contact us to learn more, and find out how enhancing your presentation skills and getting the right people’s attention can supercharge your career. We hope you enjoy the 445th issue of our weekly a.blog.