How to generate interest during a presentation?
There is one thing you can’t miss when you enter an auditorium for a presentation: each person in front of you is in a different mood. For some, life is going well, others are even in a bad way. Each person’s thinking and attention span are almost like wild animals. But there is good news: there are strategies to grab the audience.
And it’s not easy, we admit. A recent study by Prezi, for example, revealed that half of the respondents did something else while their colleague was giving their presentation, including texting (28%), checking email (27%) or falling asleep (17%). Perhaps when faced with a stranger, indifference is even more aggressive.
But there is hope.
Getting the presentation off to a good start is essential. It’s like writing a text, it’s important to be exciting or seductive right from the start. Sometimes there’s even a big presentation finale planned, but you might as well launch a teaser at the beginning, telling the world without telling it that it’s going to be interesting. That first impression marks the minutes to come.
Very important indeed is to settle that journey into a story or several stories, thus multiplying the chances of reaching several people in the audience. Women and men like to hear stories, real episodes, differentiating moments, lessons, reflections. Storytelling is, without a doubt, one of the greatest tools in society today, whether at a dinner table or in a presentation. Pulling the tape all the way back, this is how the discovery of fire started to promote the gathering of people from a community or family: besides warming each other up, they started telling stories and memories, sharing knowledge. It’s very much ours, we need it. We are designed to be drawn to stories and sharing.
Breaking the ice is already a classic, right? Not following a rigid script is another important technique. Be well prepared? Yes. Practicing over and over again beforehand? Yes. Know perfectly where you want to go and how? Of course. But some improvisation or change of direction in the narrative helps break the monotony and makes the presentation more human, more natural. Empathy lives behind every word.
Some changes in tone of voice are also recommended. In other words, create emotion as the story is told, as information is shared. It is therefore convenient, of course, that the person who is presenting has an affective and emotional relationship with that product or service. It is key that they know it perfectly and feel it. A monotone tone and the speed of the words coming out of our mouth, we all know, is the first step to losing an increasingly demanding and impatient audience, who will cling to their smartphone for very little. Oscillations in the verb are important, as can be the use of videos.
Another strategy is to involve audience members in our presentation. Whether through questions, quizzes, or hand held polls, the individual in that chair will feel valued, heard, part of that moment. Interaction seduces and grabs the audience’s attention again.
Finally, there are three techniques that are more or less mandatory, but lack sensitivity. To begin with, having a few prepared jokes in your pocket is always a good way to break the ice and gain some smiles and sympathy. Never, gentlemen, never read a slide (which should, as we have already mentioned in another text of this blog, have only an idea and little information). The direction and content of the presentation has to be under the skin of the person presenting. Slides are crutches to attract the audience, not to help the speaker. Finally, you know those really boring numbers? Forget them. If it’s possible, sure. Ideally, don’t debunk the endless statistics and data, which can even live on the slide, and then the audience chooses whether to pay attention to it.
For all the above reasons, perhaps the best thing to do when planning a presentation is to answer these questions: What are the most important parts of this topic? What does the audience know about the topic? Which audience members will tend to be disinterested? How can I help them learn and understand my topic? How big is the audience? Do I know everything about what I want to share?
We’re back to where we started: each person in the audience is in a different mood, but we already know that storytelling has the power to capture anyone’s attention. A good story will make a presentation more memorable and special. Empathetic and human. Emotion and memory are allies when we want to share something.
Oh, and don’t forget: the body also speaks. So keep eye contact with the audience and use calm, deliberate gestures at key moments of the information. And never, never stand with your legs and arms crossed.