Preparing for a presentation takes a lot of time. If you lose your audience’s attention after the first five minutes, much of that preparation is wasted.
Think back to your first speeches in grade school—hours looking up facts on the topic, organizing it, creating some type of visuals and practicing—only to have it fall flat as you read it off your note cards. Most teachers didn’t explain how to tell stories or use humor in our talks. They never suggested we engage with our audience. (It was 5th grade after all.)
While most of us have moved beyond those early speechmaking debacles, keeping an audience’s attention from beginning to end is still challenging. Attention spans are short.
To ensure neither you nor your audience is wasting time, consider how to engage your audience. Help listeners learn by structuring your presentation in a way that moves them beyond passive listening.
Here are 11 great ideas for holding your audience’s attention and getting them more engaged when you’re presenting:
- Tell stories. Share a personal story that relates to your topic and helps emphasize your point.
- Interrupt your speech pattern every 2-4 minutes. Change your tone, volume or pacing—draw a word out or speak louder or softer. Move your body or your hands to emphasize a point, suggests Micki Holliday in Secrets of Power Presentations.
- Involve the audience. A simple way to do this is to ask questions and pause while they consider. You could even try leaving blanks in your slides and ask listeners to guess at the missing information, suggests managementhelp.org. (If you do this, be sure to plan ahead by considering what responses you’re likely to get and how you’ll make the point if you don’t get the answers you’re expecting.)
- Don’t wait until the end to ask for questions. Ensure your audience stays with you by finding out what questions they have as you move through your presentation. “What questions do you have?” is better than “Are there any questions?” suggests psychologytoday.com. Also, if you’re in a situation where people are hesitant to look silly in front of a group, e.g., an executive speaking to a large group of lower ranking employee, consider collecting questions anonymously and then reading them from cards. Compliment the questions as you read them (even if you already covered it in your presentation.) Read the question. Then say, “Great question. This helps re-emphasize a really important point …”
- Reveal the solution slowly. Share the challenge or problem and then solve it one piece at a time. This helps hold the audience’s attention.
- Pause periodically. Silence gives your audience permission to interrupt you, suggests wilderpresentations.com. If you talk non-stop, it’s harder for people to jump in with questions or comments.
- Include video clips in your slides. Let other experts or customers reiterate your point in a short, high-quality video.
- Move around. Use your arms to emphasize points. Rather than standing behind a podium, walk around a little and make eye contact with a few people. Walking toward your audience encourages involvement and blurs the line between presenter and audience.
- Encourage your listeners to move. Have them stand up. Or ask for a show of hands to poll the group.
- Use numbers. If you tell your audience that there are 3 ways to do something, they can’t help listening more closely for number 2, 3, etc.
- Break audience into small groups. Have them discuss specific concerns regarding the topic. Keep the groups small to encourage participation. Assign someone in each group the role of moderator whose job it is to ensure everyone’s concerns are considered.
Giving a presentation is more than just good content. Hold their attention by carefully structuring your talk to encourage audience engagement. Try out some of the tips above to see what works best in your particular speaking situation.
Related article: Presentations—4 Tips to Build Stage Presence
Related NST Seminar: Essential Skills of Dynamic Public Speaking