How to Keep Your Audience’s Attention

Even if you love presenting, it’s not much fun to speak in front of an audience that isn’t responsive. You may as well be talking to yourself. However, unless the topic is “How to peel paint off the wall,” much of your audience’s attention is within your control. If they look bored, you might be to blame.

In order to address what makes your audience zone out, you have to know your audience. These tips reveal why people lose interest in a presentation – and how you can get it back.


Switch It Up

Attention spans are short – after just 10 minutes, people’s minds start to wander, even if they’re interested in the subject matter. Time and again, presenters make the mistake of addressing their audience without switching up the way they present the material throughout their talk. Small transitions or changes in format will “wake up” an audience like a cup of coffee. Breaking up a presentation into easily absorbed chunks is a must. Use the “fade” effect in a PowerPoint (or other similar feature) and provide a brief summary at the end of each section. Utilize different mediums and methods, like a flipchart or whiteboard, a short game or activity, or telling a story from memory. They’ll be looking on to see what you do next!


Use Images

It’s common knowledge that humans are visual creatures. What we see is more memorable than our experience with any other sense. When the average person hears something, there’s a 10% chance they will remember it three days later; if that information comes with a visual, that statistic rises to 65%. If your slides contain only text, you’re not going to engage your audience’s minds. Even if they’re paying attention, your presentation won’t be lighting up the reward centers of their brain, and what you’re saying won’t be any more memorable than their commute to work.


Make it Relevant

Have you ever attended a presentation and wondered, “How does this apply to me?” No matter who they are or why they’re there, every person ever who’s attended a presentation is thinking this while it’s going on, whether they’re aware of it or not. Your goal is to answer this question during the course of your presentation. Learn what your audience members have at stake and tie it into something relevant to them – like how they can apply a new concept to their work or how a new technology can make their life easier. They’ll be hooked for the duration if you can answer this question early on.


Connect the Dots

In psychology, a state of “flow” occurs when a person is fully immersed in an activity, which floods the brain with positive feelings of enjoyment and success. Speakers can allow their audience to achieve flow by making their presentations flow as well. This lets them see the logic and order in which you’re doling out information. Label distinct sections and insert transitions so your audience can better understand what you’ve said and where you’re going with it. These may seem obvious to you, but you know why you put things where they are – your audience may need it spelled out to get to that “aha” moment.


Have a Conversation

Presentations are typically viewed as a one-way conversation. However, it doesn’t have to be that way 100% of the time. Ask thoughtful and inspiring questions of your audience. When they respond, probe further (“Tell me more” or “Can you give me an example?”), as appropriate, or make a relevant comment. Exchanges like this shouldn’t go on for a long time (unless your presentation is meant to be fully interactive), but can give the presentation a boost of energy when it’s needed.

The audience’s attention is yours for the taking. With the right tactics, blended seamlessly into your presentation, you’ll achieve the effect you intended.

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