Delivering a presentation that captures and maintains the audience’s attention is one of the greatest challenges for public speakers. In today’s environment full of distractions and incentives, it’s simply not enough to broadcast content and hope that the audience will listen carefully.
Audience’s attention is a scarce commodity and capturing it is as difficult as maintaining it. According to biologist John Medina, given a presentation of moderately interesting content, your attendees’ attention will drop to zero within the first 10 minutes of your speech.
While there are many ways to make presentations more interactive, speakers should try to create a conversation with their participants and proactively ask for their input in order to deliver an unforgettable presentation.
Here are 7 ways to capture participants’ attention, make them part of your story and deliver a presentation they won’t forget.
1. Greet your audience in the local language
Many musicians use this trick that makes not only female friends shriek. They jump on stage shouting out greetings and basic phrases in the local language. The crowd goes mental every time they hear their heroes speak in their mother tongue.
Many conferences are multinational and as a rule of thumb, the majority of an audience comes from the hosting country. This is a great opportunity for you.
- Memorize how to say “Hello” and “How are you?” in the local language
- Use them at the offset of your speech.
- You can take it a step further and adjust your presentation ad hoc to the local audience by using local examples and curiosities.
For example, Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik started his epic talk at Marketing festival by showing pictures from his tour around the hosting city of Brno, Czech Republic. Moreover, he made his presentation super-relevant for the audience by stating what is wrong with Czech websites and showing ways to improve them.
2. Start with an attention-grabbing question
Just remember the last time you were reading a suspense novel or a thriller. In the first chapter, a writer put a question or a statement into your mind and made you turn page after page keeping you searching for the answer.
That’s exactly what happens when you open your presentation with an attention-grabbing question.
By asking an opening rhetoric question, you instantly capture the audience’s attention. They’ll be hanging on the edge of their chairs waiting to hear the answer. Make a pause to let the meaning sink in before you move on to give answers or solutions.
A) I always wondered…
How can I/you/we… (construct a flying car)?
B) I always wondered…
What would I/you/we have to do to… (become a successful entrepreneur)?
In this way, you present an idea that something extraordinary can be achieved and then you deliver a solution during your talk maintaining the attention of your audience.
3. Open a conversation with your audience
Don’t wait for participants to ask questions to you. And please don’t wait until the very end. Engage your audience members with raising a question on your own to trigger a conversation.
I know many speakers are frightened of starting the dialogue during their presentations. What if no one would want to answer and the dead-silence would fill in the room?
At first, I had similar fears before my presentations. Soon I noticed that there was a large number of participants eager to share their experiences and opinions. Don’t hesitate, go for it. It’s massively engaging.
And in case, there is truly no one willing to participate, you can prepare your own response, share it and then just move on with your presentation. No harm was done.
4. Go among the audience
Following the concert analogy, there is nothing more engaging than the moment when a singer jumps off the stage and dives into the crowd, communicating intimately with the audience.
Getting off the stage helps you overcome a physical distance and get to the same level as your audience. The division of the room into a seating area and the stage often prevent more vivid interaction that arises from physical proximity.
After you ask your audience a question, get off the stage, walk among participants and pass the microphone to gain a more intimate connection with people. It’s incredibly engaging!
5. Get your audience to work together
Passing the presentation “workload” on the audience is an incredibly effective way to engage participants and help them make new contacts.
Try the following activity: Present the question or a statement relevant to your talk that you want your participants to discuss. Have them close their eyes to reflect and prepare answers. Let attendees jot down answers, then put them in pairs with their neighbours and have them share ideas with one another.
Walk around the room and try to join the conversation if appropriate. Make sure to share some of the ideas that you overheard and follow up with a couple of questions.
This activity is amazingly effective and works well with practically any crowd. It doesn’t matter if there are 50 or 200 members in the audience.
6. Give rewards for participation
Giving out small rewards can bring another interactive element to your presentation and form a closer bonding with your audience.
I learned this simple trick at the Eventex conference where one of the speakers Victor Neyndorff encouraged people to join in the conversation by handing out small gifts straight from the stage. It was both engaging and entertaining.
The gifts don’t need to be pompous – they can be as simple as a branded USB stick, iPhone chargers or delicacies from your country.
7. Prepare your own questions for the Q&A
Oftentimes, speakers are assigned 60 minutes for their presentation without asking how much time they eventually need for the delivery. An hour on stage can be painfully long, especially when average attention span is just 10 minutes.
Don’t be scared to allocate as much as 20-30 minutes to the Q&A. I can hear you saying that there is no chance that people will have that many questions so they would fill in half an hour.
Try using a Q&A tool for collecting questions at your presentation. Introduce the tool at the offset of your talk so the audience can submit their questions while you speak. When your presentation is over, you’ll have a stack of great questions ready to respond to.
If you’re still unsure if the audience will have enough questions to fill in question time, you can submit your own questions to the Q&A tool in advance to get the conversation going.
I saw these tricks work in practice like a charm. They changed the dynamic of presentations from one-way content broadcasts into exciting two-way conversations between speakers and attendees. Try them at your next presentation and inspire your audience not only by your content but also by interaction you create in the room.