Janice Brown pressed the clicker and advanced to her second slide.
She turned back to the audience and continued. “As you can see…”
Janice was nervous.
There were only about 25 people in front of her and this made her more jittery. She could see every wince, every uncomfortable shift, and every check of a wrist watch.
She turned towards the screen and read her bullet points from slide two. She suddenly wished she hadn’t created a slide deck with 40 slides. They only had an hour!
On occasion she looked back around at her audience, but she knew she had lost them. The longer she talked the more smart phones got used. The atmosphere was gradually becoming more and more uncomfortable.
Janice turned back towards the screen and read faster.
Have you ever delivered a presentation like this?
Have you ever struggled to keep an audience engaged?
Here are 4 tricks to keep your audience interested in your presentation (and why I’m never using a laser pointer again)…
- Start with a story
- Add some incongruent juxtaposition
- Frame for the audience early
- Use open loops
1. Start with a story
Human beings are hardwired to pay attention to stories.
For thousands of years story-telling has been a fundamental communication method.
The amazing things about story-telling are:
- Your audience will naturally listen to you
- Your audience will remember much more about what you told them
When I have facilitated seminars about the importance of active listening I have used stories to get the point across.
Instead of lecturing about what active listening is, I tell a story about problems I have experienced through not using active listening. During the story the audience is engaged and the message sinks in.
2. Add some incongruent juxtaposition
Instead of using the typical presentation starters, like “Who wants to…” or “Who likes…” or “I’m going to show you…” try starting with what seems like completely unrelated information.
The purpose is to hook the audience and keep them wanting more.
For example, start with:
Ladies and gentlemen, today I want to talk to you about how a sudden stroke and subsequent heart attack helped me to finish the Benson project before the deadline.
The above sentence would have the audience wondering how near death experiences and the Benson project are related. That wonder keeps the audience engaged as they wait to find out.
3. Frame for the audience early
If you keep the focus on what’s in it for the audience your presentation has a much higher chance of engaging them.
Why is this?
Most business presentations you are forced to attend are delivered as information sharing sessions. An information sharing presentation will let you know about a new project, a company restructure, more work that you need to do, or all of the above.
Rarely do business presentations focus on how the audience can benefit.
Framing your presentation from a audience-focused-benefit perspective will keep their interest. Instead of talking about the features of your new system, talk about how your new system will save the audience time.
4. Use open loops
Ever been unable to sleep at night because you’re thinking about all the work you couldn’t finish?
You can’t sleep because you’re thinking about all the open loops you have back at the office.
As humans we have a natural need for closure. When a story or task is left open we have a tendency to remember it. We more easily forget stories and tasks that have been closed.
Take for example comedian Billy Connolly. Throughout his standup comedy routines he tells stories that only get half-finished because they branch off into other stories. As a result his routines have a lot of open loops. By the end he always resolves and closes all of the loops, but as they stay open you can’t help thinking to yourself, “I wonder what’s going to happen to…?”
In other words, open loops keep you listening and wanting more.
Used in your presentation, open loops are extremely powerful. The longer you can keep your audience engaged, the more chance there is of them taking action at the end of your talk.
If you’ve read this far, maybe you are wondering, “Why is Dave never using a laser pointer again?”
I will most definitely use a laser pointer again, I just wanted to prove that open loops work.
Try one at a time
Don’t overstretch yourself by trying to incorporate all of these techniques into one presentation. Pick one technique and apply it to your next presentation.
Following your presentation evaluate how it went. Use this evaluation to decide whether you will keep, modify, or discard the technique.
Read more about audience centered speaking here.
Best of luck!