Audiences are easily distracted these days, especially in business presentations. Professionals have a lot of commitments pulling on their time and their minds. To make it worse (for the presenter) almost every member of the audience carries a smart phone which is constantly calling them to take a look at emails, texts or even a game. With all of this competition, it is imperative for speakers to find better ways to catch the attention of their audience and hold it throughout their presentation.

Begin in novel way – You start communicating with your audience from the very beginning of your presentation, so make sure you don’t communicate “BORING!” because once they get that feeling, you will have a hard time reengaging them. So, how can we catch their attention? Here are four ideas, which are also outlined in our video, “Presentation Opening – Part 2: Do This”.

  • bored-audience

o   Ask a thought provoking question

o   Use a favorite quote

o   Relate a personal story

o   Tell an appropriate joke

Make sure that whatever method you use, relate it to the topic on which you are speaking.

Talk about something they are interested in – Often people will tell me that they’ve gone to see a presentation and it ended up having little to do with what they wanted to hear. Of course, this can be the result of the listener not understanding what the talk was supposed to be about, but I have found more frequently that it is because the presenter either veered away from their topic, or misrepresented what they were going to speak about. Some speakers have found it helpful to talk to some audience members as they prepare their talk to ensure a tight connection between their message and the needs of the listeners.

Add some entertainment value – We realize that you are not entertainers, nor is your audience expecting a show, but every good speaker includes some entertainment value in order to keep the audience awake. This might include some of the same tools you used in the opening such as a personal story, a proper joke or a quote. But interactivity, energy and visuals (see below) also provide entertainment value. And of course, your positive attitude toward the topic and the audience will also keep them attentive to your message.

Be interactive – Too many presentation are one way – from the presenter to the audience. Because of this, the listener’s minds are free to wander or become distracted by their surroundings or their phones. However, if you add interactivity to your talk, the audience is more likely to stay involved. Here are some options:

           Ask Questions – People always perk up when a question is asked because they might be called on to answer it. Don’t assume however, that these questions will come out naturally during a presentation. Instead, take the time to prepare your questions in advance, and know where you want to ask them.
           Take a Survey – This can be as simple as asking for a show of hands such as, “Who has been able to…” Or you can do some preparation in advance and have a form for them to fill out.
          Use a Follow-Along Document – Instead of using that tired old 3-up with notes copy of your PowerPoint slides, we recommend creating a Word document that leaves empty spaces where the audience can (and must) take notes. For example, if you have three points to make about a particular idea, just show three numbered spaces. Then they can write the information into the spaces. This will keep them involved and increase their interest.
          Small Group Work – If you have a longer presentation, consider a 5 or 10 minute session where you assign the group to come up with ideas or answers. If there are enough participants, you can break them into two or more groups of 4 to 6 members. Then allow them to report on their findings and you can use their information to continue the presentation. People love to work in these groups, and their engagement will go through the roof.

Bring the energy – Do you communicate energy and excitement from the very beginning of your talk or do you drag yourself up to the front and start with a big old yawn? The audience reads your energy and reflects it back to you. If you can’t get yourself interested in the material, why should they? Don’t fool yourself! Dull and boring doesn’t make you sound thoughtful and professional, it makes you sound tiresome! So, get yourself a little energized, project your voice and speak with confidence. Show respect for your audience and your message.

Use impactful visuals –Projected PowerPoint slides are NOT the proper place for you to put your notes. They are common and mind-numbing and the audience has read through them long before you finish speaking about them. If you have an interesting graph, chart, picture or diagram, these are prefect items to project. Bullet pointed notes are not. Turn the stupid things off once in awhile and talk with your audience. By the way, if you hand out all your slides as notes, you are inviting your audience to become distracted. They are three pages ahead of you and can check their emails while waiting for you to catch up.

It is easy to blame our audience’s lack of attention on cell phones or busy schedules, but in reality we find that most of the problem lies with presenters who are boring, predictable and add little that is interesting to their presentation. Follow some of the steps above and your audience will definitely pay more attention.

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