Ever wondered why it is so hard to keep your audience engaged? Well, here’s the answer. According to research, the average attention span of a human is eight seconds. And what this means is that your audience are likely to lose their attention during your presentation, and you wouldn’t want that to happen would you?
Delivering a presentation isn’t as easy as it seems, and on top of that, the thought of your audience not listening to you can haunts you throughout your presentation. In this article, we have prepared 15 tips to help you keep your audience engaged during your presentation.
1. Tell stories
“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” – Jean Luc Godard
Ever heard of Shark Tank? Entrepreneurs take part in the show to seek funds from a group of sharks in return for equity for a new product that they have just launched. The way they would pitch about their product is to start with a story that focusses on the problem followed by a demonstration of the product that help provide a solution to it.
So why do they use stories to communicate the problem? Isn’t it easier if they just stated it and moved on from there? Why put in the effort to come up with a story?
Thus, storytelling can play a huge part in helping the audience better understand your point.
Here’s a video of Andy Harrington speaking about the number one way to engage your audience:
2. Eye contact
Most of us have been a victim of painful presentations. Some contain really heavy content, some are filled with numbers and facts, and some are just… boring. One of the ways to keep the audience engaged is to maintain eye contact with them. When you look them in the eye, they are more likely to back at look at you. This way, they get less distracted by other things such as games on their phones and become more focused on you and your content.
3. Start by telling your audience what they’ll take away from your presentation
Imagine listening to a presentation hoping to gain knowledge about a particular something, and the next thing you know, the session is over – turns out, nothing memorable was mentioned, no valuable insight or takeaway from the session.
It would be a plus to inform your audience at the start of your presentation about your agenda or goals so that they know to expect from it. This way, they are more likely to listen attentively and anticipate the information that you’ll be speaking about, which will engage them in your presentation.
4. Emphasise key words
Make it clear to your audience what they really need to pay attention to by changing your tone when it comes to the important information. You can also speak a little softer when you’re emphasising a key point to make the audience focus on you more.
You must be wondering then, why softer and not louder? This is because when you speak softly, people tend to associate it with important things like secrets – which makes them all the more interested in what you have to say.
With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with speaking louder too, though it depends on what the message is and how you would want to convey it to the audience.
You can also consider using the following techniques to emphasize the important points:
- Inform your audience that you are about to say something important.
- Use repetition
- Make the most important point the climax of a story
5. Use silence effectively
Imagine explaining an extremely complex situation or problem to someone. Do you instantly move on to the next point or do you wait for them to process the information before moving on?
This is the same with presentations. When you make a statement, it’s important to wait in silence to observe how people receive the message. Give the audience some time to receive and digest the information. Don’t flood the them with too much information or you’ll end up overwhelming them, which is a sure fire way to lose their interest.
6. Incorporate humour into your presentation
When you have a creative presentation lined up for the audience, you’ve won half the battle. Creative presentation will help to differentiate you from other presenters. What’s left is to maintain their attention towards you throughout the presentation.
Life is too short to be serious about everything. Lighten the mood by incorporating some humor into your presentation to keep the audience engaged. Leo Rosten, an American Humorist, once said “Humour is the affectionate communication of insight.” I’m sure the audience will be happy to listen to a joke or two during a presentation, especially those with heavy content.
7. Encourage interaction
Ever wondered why speakers say things like “Raise your hands if you agree” or “Raise your hands if you have done this before”?
Doing this helps stimulate engagement amongst the audience. Not only that, speakers are also able to find out if you have been listening through your response.
Here’s a tip: make use of online quizzes such as Kahoot during your presentation Kahoot is a customisable online poll to help kickstart a discussion with your audience. They can take part in the quiz using their electronic devices.
This helps find out if they have been listening to you through their participation and also keep them engaged.
8. Be enthusiastic
Don’t expect your audience to be excited about your presentation when you yourself are not. Be enthusiastic and spread the positive vibes to your audience. Remember, you only have 7 seconds to either make it or break it when it comes to creating a lasting impression on your audience. So start off strong with lots of energy to create a lasting first impression. That way, they are more likely to listen to your presentation as they may find you fun and interesting.
9. Pause periodically
Pauses allows your audience to interrupt your presentation with their burning questions. This way, there will be more interaction between you and your audience, thus they’ll be engaged and involved throughout the presentation. You can also switch the presentation up by asking your audience questions once in a while instead of letting them do all the asking. This also helps them to ponder over the issue that you’ve brought up.
10. Alternate your pacing
Would you rather listen to a presentation at the same pace or would you rather have variations? Imagine listening to the presentation outline for a minute when it can actually be done in a shorter amount of time. As a presenter, incorporate some variations into your presentation to spice things up.
For example, when you’re speaking about the presentation outline and background information, you can pick up the pace as it is less important as compared to your main points. And when you’re at your main points, you can speak slower to be more elaborate and to allow your audience to fully absorb the information.
11. Go off script
It would be good to practice the delivery of your presentation in advance so as to look well-prepared and professional. When you look more confident and professional, your audience is more likely to buy your message. After a few rounds of practicing, you should be very familiar with the flow of your presentation and can make do without the cue cards.
However, there is no point memorising and knowing your content at the back of your head if you sound robotic, rigid and rehearsed. The moment you do, chances are, your audience would know and they won’t be able to feel your sincerity when you’re speaking.
So don’t think about how you should act, speak or behave. Let all these expectations go down the drain and speak like how you normally would with a friend or family member – Personal, warm and your walls down. Speak naturally, not word for word.
12. Use your voice
Imagine you’re listening to a monotonous person speak for several minutes. Wouldn’t you feel as though you are listening to a robot? If you’re the presenter, you wouldn’t want to speak in the same tone throughout your presentation as this would bore the audience.
One of the way to capture the attention of the audience is to add a personal and emotional touch to your presentation. If you have noticed, most speakers out there would constantly change their tone according to the context of their presentation. Let’s take Obama as an example. Have you ever heard him speak monotonously? You rarely right, this is because he uses his voice to keep his audience engaged by adding some tone into his speech.
13. Keep it short and sweet
The attention span that can be comfortably held by an interested human engaged in listening to a speaker is around 18 to 20 minutes. It’s the same for students in lectures. They can never listen to a 90-minute lecture without having to take a break – and even with breaks, they tend to lose focus after the first half of the lecture. I have been there and done that and I’m sure most of you have too.
My point is, try to keep your presentations short and sweet but not to the point where you leave out important information. Eliminate unnecessary and irrelevant topics in your presentation as this would also cause the audience to lose focus.
14. Break the ice
If you are speaking to an audience that you’ve just met for the first time, it is important to make them feel comfortable. Wouldn’t you feel much more comfortable when you’re listening to a friend as opposed to when you’re listening to a stranger? This is the same for your audience. They want to hear someone – a friend when you’re speaking. Not a stranger. So to do this, conduct simple ice breaker activities before properly starting your presentation to get them to warm up to you. Examples of ice breakers activities are: Live Polls, 2 truths 1 lie and the classic – Raise your hand if….
Only then when your audience is comfortable with your presence, will you notice that they will be more attentive, making it easier for you to engage them.
Here’s another tip: when you are conducting the activities, try being enthusiastic and personable. Don’t hesitate to go all out and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself in front of the audience. Any hesitation or fear on your part will only make your audience doubt you in return.
15. Avoid providing handouts before or during a presentation
The main purpose of a presentation is to convey your message to the audience. Handouts are secondary.
Although handouts are great for the audience since they can refer to them for further detail and elaboration, distributing them –especially before or during the presentation– will only serve to distract them.
Not only that, they may end up reading the handout instead of focusing on your presentation.
Furthermore, if your handout contains sensitive information, there is no reason why the audience shouldn’t copy it or worse – give it to your competitors.
Thus, handouts can act as a double-edged sword. Useful for the audience, but risky for you. If you plan to make use of handouts, proceed with caution. Weigh the benefits and risks before continuing.
Wrapping it Up
And there you have it! 15 tips to help make your audience glued to their seats during a presentation. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it through this article. Do let us know in the comments if you’ve tried these methods and if it worked out for you!