There’s a huge disparity between giving a presentation and observing one. If you’re the presenter, you’re pouring your blood, sweat and tears—figuratively, of course—into researching, outlining, creating a deck, assembling visual aids, practising and delivering your talk. If you’re an audience member, you’re sitting back and letting the content wash over you… until you aren’t. You may very well catch yourself daydreaming, nodding off or itching to pull out your phone and covertly scroll through social media.
The disconnect is disengagement; presenters are engaged, viewers are often not. As Fortune reports, one executive cites research that 62 per cent of employees in the U.S. “have either fallen asleep or left the room to escape a boring batch of slides.” Furthermore, 41 per cent of American employees would rather visit the dentist or do taxes than sit through yet another unengaging slideshow.
The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to engage an audience—large or small, familiar or made up of complete strangers. Here’s some advice to help you do just that.
Capture Attention Right Out of the Gate
It might seem like you should save your “best stuff” for the end, sort of how bands typically play an encore comprised of their most popular or meaningful songs. But the reality is that you have a short window of time in which to hook your audience once you take the stage. If people decide to tune out because of a lackluster start, it will be a serious challenge to re-engage them down the line.
Instead of making a statement or launching right into the meat of your content, consider what kind of opener would help you best connect with your audience in the context of your presentation. It might be an anecdote, rhetorical question, piece of trivia or demonstration.
Incorporate Audience Feedback in Real Time
Some of the most important presentation advice to heed is the importance of getting your audience involved so they feel like more than seat warmers. Imparting a one-way flow of information will only get you so far. That’s when eyes start to glaze, heads start to nod, and people start to fidget. Rather, strive to open up a two-way dialogue by soliciting audience feedback as you go.
Since calling on individual audience members can get cumbersome after a while, a more streamlined solution is to live poll using audience response technology. This allows audience members to contribute questions and answers—depending on the exact type of survey you embed—in real time using their mobile devices.
This form of interactivity has a few key benefits. It allows people to communicate directly with you, the presenter. Someone in the audience might have a great question that would otherwise go unasked, but audience response technology allows it to appear on the screen for all to see. It also demonstrates to the audience that you care what they think, and that their input will shape the session.
Avoid Making Your Audience Multitask
Have you ever tried to read and listen at the same time? Hint: It doesn’t work. Viewers will quickly become stressed or frustrated if they have to read lengthy slides while also trying to absorb your verbal cues. As Fast Company notes,
“A good presentation doesn’t split an audience’s focus but directs attention toward a key message the whole time.”
Allow participants enough time to read or study visual aids before speaking. Keep text concise; you want to do most of the heavy lifting without relying on word-heavy slides. Make sure your visuals and your verbal delivery remain in support of one another.
Engaging your audience is key to delivering an effective presentation, which is what this advice aims to help you do.