This is Part 2 of my series of articles about preparing a top-notch presentation.
Part 1: How to create your content
Part 2: How to keep the attention of your audience (this article)
Part 3: How to prepare yourself for your presentation
Part 4: How to manage your fear of public speaking
In part 1 I covered how to create your content. There is one more crucial step to add, which is to include elements that will get the attention of your audience and prevent them from nodding off while you are speaking. This what I am going to cover now in this Part 2.
So let’s get started:
1. Start with a bang!
Don’t be fooled into thinking that your audience is dying to hear your fascinating business update or sales proposal. You will have to fight hard to keep their attention.
Most presenters start their presentation with a “WOW” effect or with a question to the audience that gets them their attention right away. This could be something like:
- A shocking statistic, e.g. “Ninety-five per cent of all start-ups fail in their first year. You could be one of them.”
- An unsettling question, e.g. “If you lost your job today, how long could you survive without an income?”
- A question to the audience: “Hands up if you think your business is ready for the upcoming changes in data protection law. And now hands up those of you who have no clue what I am talking about!”
- A story with a suspension effect, e.g. “When I went bankrupt in 2001, I thought my life was over. At the end of this presentation you will find out how I rebuilt my seven-figure business and how you can do the same.”
- A brilliant joke (being German, I am not even going to try to give you an example for this).
Whilst some of these strategies are (arguably) a bit overdone nowadays, they work pretty well.
Yet starting with a bang is not enough.
You also need to keep the attention of your audience throughout your presentation. Whilst a good introduction will raise their attention at the beginning, it will fall again pretty quickly unless you make your presentation lively, interactive, funny or add more “WOW” elements all the way through.
Occasional questions to the audience also lift their attention span. Even if they are rhetoric questions and you don’t take answers, the mere act of asking them will make your audience think of possible answers, and this brings back their attention.
2. How to never, ever start your presentation
Never ever start your presentation by saying something like:
“Sorry, I got the boring topic to present to you. There is not much I can do to make this interesting”
“It’s hard to make this interesting, so I will be quick”.
I hear people saying this a lot – and it kills the attention of your audience immediately. It’s your job to make the content interesting and engaging. If it’s not relevant to your audience, why would you even talk about it?
3. Use animated vocal patterns
Even if you have created amazing content, you will lose your audience if you recite it in a monotonous voice. I have heard people presenting the vision of their company to their staff with a flat monotonous voice that would have made a funeral speech sound more animated.
I appreciate that we in the UK are naturally a bit more reserved when we are presenting. A full-on Anthony Robbins-style motivational speech with shouting and jumping across the stage may not be your natural style; and luckily that’s not required at all! The following will do the job:
- use a wide range of different vocal patterns by changing the intonation, speed and volume of your voice
- stress important parts of your sentences
- show your own passion for the topic
Here is a test for you: record yourself practising your speech and listen to it afterwards. How interesting is your vocal pattern? Then listen to a few TED talks and noticed how their speakers use a wide range of vocal patterns.
4. Be brief!
People love short presentations, and in our digital age the attention span of audiences is often very low. That’s why TED talks are limited to 18 minutes.
It’s easy to make the mistake of overloading your presentation. You may be passionate about the subject and keen to share all those details that are fascinating to you. Yet the more you try to squeeze into your presentation, the more you run the risk of diluting your message so that your audience will switch off or miss your core meaning. Simplicity can be powerful.
So once you have completed your draft presentation, go through it again with a fresh awareness and ask yourself whether everything you set out to cover is really necessary. I also recommend rehearsing your presentation to check whether you can stick to the allocated time.
4. Establish personal credibility
When you enter the stage or meeting room, one of the questions that people may ask themselves is: “Why should I be listening to him/her?”
It can be useful to establish your credibility upfront by explaining why you are talking to the audience; e.g. “I was invited to talk to you because I have been facilitating cultural changes in FTSE 100 organisations for the last 10 years.”
Consider also how your outfit can support your credibility (or not!). Do you look like someone experienced in the area you are about to cover? This may seem superficial, but the reality is that people will judge you on the way you present yourself, whether that’s through your outfit, your body language or the competence that shines through your vocal pattern.
You now you have created your content (see Part 1) and added lots of elements that will help you get the attention of your audience.
The next step is to prepare yourself by rehearsing and checking out the venue. I will cover this in Part 3: How to prepare yourself for your presentation.
If you would like to talk to me about ways to prepare an upcoming presentation or about improving your public speaking and influencing skills generally, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free Discover Call here. I would love to hear from you.