Keeping tens or hundreds of minds focused on a presentation isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a bit of a challenge! If a story isn’t compelling, if a speech is boring, confusing or even predictable, it’s easy for an audience to lose focus. Just as in the movies, the audience is seated but traveling in their minds away from the main scene – your presentation.
So the first challenge for the presenter is to create a story that arouses and holds the audience’s attention. Several devices can be used to create a story that can surprise while also engaging the emotions. Remember that any good presentation is going to do both.
Here are some techniques that you can and should use in future presentations:
1 – Go straight to the Point
In a presentation that goes directly to the point, the presenter reveals the main message in the first minutes, going into the arguments afterward. This ensures that the main message will always be heard by the entire audience.
- Context: This strategy proves most effective in short meetings that occur on a daily basis. But it can also be used when the listener already knows the subject and the aim is to deepen that knowledge. Finally, it also makes sense to go directly to the point when you have to tell bad news. In this case, it’s good to go directly to the point and devote the rest of the time to brief justifications and proposals to reverse the negative scenario.
- Audience: Senior executives and others with very full schedules that may have to leave the meeting before it’s finished. So reach them early.
2 – Metaphor
Metaphor is the expression of an idea based on the concept of the analogy. It consists of parallel reasoning used to explain a concept. The goal in using metaphor is to lead the audience to a thought that can arouse their attention and increase their chances of remembering and understanding certain information.
- Context: When we’re presenting complex information, metaphor makes presentations lighter and easier to understand. It’s a good device for facilitating fast understanding.
- Audience: Metaphor is good with any type of audience, but it’s very useful when an audience is new to a subject and there’s a need to convey technical concepts.
3 – Suspense
Suspense is a way to hold the attention of an audience by creating expectations for a particular piece of news or information.
- Context: The suspense device should be used only when there is a good story to tell or when the outcome is something good. Example: “We had a very difficult year, expectations were bad, but our results were great.” – such a scenario is perfect for suspense. This device can also be used in other situations, like new product launches. But if the news is going to be negative, using suspense is a bad idea.
- Audience: Any type of audience.
4 – Surprise
As much as an audience is interested, it’s normal for attention to wander here and there. It’s been proven that we can only maintain a good level of attention for 10 minutes. Hence, the great ally in all presentations is the surprise factor, which works against this natural reaction, piquing interest and so managing to hold an audience’s attention longer.
- Context: To use the surprise device, simply present something unusual – an unexpected revelation, an attractive picture, an amusing passage. This way people stay alert and focused on the speech, waiting for something unusual to happen again. This strategy can and should be used in almost all types of presentations, especially the longer ones.
- Audience: This device works with any type of audience, but it works better with younger and / or more relaxed audiences.
5 – Conflict X Solution
“Without conflict there is no story.” That’s what American writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) said. Respecting this logic, conflict can be said to be beneficial in the stories that give rise to presentations.
- Context: To use this device, simply call the audience’s attention to a certain problem, package the problem in some of its details or consequences, and in the end provide a solution. This approach works well when there’s a good story for support. Take advantage of the conflict inherent in the story. A conflict well-worked-out captures people’s interest and underlines what you want to highlight.
- Audience: This strategy works especially well when we need to win over audiences that are difficult or who have zero information on a topic.
6 – Humor
People rarely leave unsatisfied if a presentation makes them laugh. Humor generates an emotional involvement that clearly increases the chances of the audience recalling the messages.
- Context: When done right, humor is welcome in any kind of presentation, even those with formal contexts. It’s not about telling jokes – it’s about bringing fun to certain parts of a presentation. If you don’t feel okay using humor, you can select light-hearted images or funny videos that go along with your main message.
- Audience: This device can be used with all kinds of audiences, but, for more formal presentations, be careful how you use it.
7 – Questions
At certain times during a presentation, the presenter can and should ask questions. Besides bringing dynamism to a presentation, the presenter’s questions can help identify trends in the audience, a line of thinking, previous experiences and/or levels of knowledge that can be exploited to get closer to that audience.
Another interesting strategy is to raise private concerns or internal issues in a public venue. In this scenario, the questions are more important than the answers. From a proposed question, the audience can begin to reflect on something not yet perceived to be a problem.
- Context: The presenter arouses the listeners’ attention about an issue and leads them down a certain path using argument and comment.
- Audience: This strategy works on any type of audience, as long as there are no time constraints.
8 – Drama
Although not very common in corporate presentations, there are situations in which using drama is an effective strategy, especially when you want to warn an audience about a risk and/or trigger apprehension.
- Context: Imagine that the presenter knows that a new rule being implemented by the government will jeopardize the company’s main product. At a meeting with the management team the presenter may use the drama strategy, exposing the negative consequences that may arise. After showing the drama side, though, the presenter must introduce a proposal for change, so that the drama becomes the argument in support of the proposal.
- Audience: This technique can be applied to any type of audience, but be careful when using it with corporate audiences.
9 – Being provocative
A provocative approach is based on comments about weaknesses and difficulties the audience might have.
- Context: After mentioning the weaknesses, the presenter offers solutions to the problems they generate and suggests improvements. This is a provocative challenge with a constructive purpose. The goal is to lead an audience to a new solution.
- Audience: This is one of the few strategies that doesn’t apply to just any kind of audience. So use it only when you truly know your audience and know that a provocative challenge will not be unwelcome.
Now that you know the various techniques to hold the attention of your audiences, apply them in your next presentation.
“The obligation to be understood is from the one who speaks or writes, not from the one who hears or reads.” – Ricardo Amorim
Ricardo Amorim, a Brazilian economist, is saying a really interesting thing here.
When we make a presentation, the most important thing of all is that the audience gets the message we want to convey, right? In fact, this is the goal for any PPT that’s going to support a speech. Whether we’re talking about flying to the Moon or a new electronic discovery or the benefits of sleeping in a mud mask, the right approach is crucial. And that approach will depend on the profile of the listener we’re targeting. So: A woman probably won’t care about tire tread. A man probably won’t care about hosiery. Knowing what we want to say and how we want to say it, and to whom, is totally crucial.
But how to make yourself clear enough to be understood?
Here are 8 tips to engage an audience and help you get your message across:
1) Who is my audience?
To make yourself clear, you absolutely have to know who you’re going to be talking to. This is basic to any communication, actually. So before you begin creating a presentation, try very hard to find out:
- Who will be the audience?
- How many will be there?
- How much do these folks know about my subject?
- What DON’T they know about my subject?
2) Switch roles
Now put yourself in the shoes of those who’ll be listening to you. If you want to make sure the entire audience gets your message, you have to be clear, interesting and fluid when making a presentation. And the best way to do this is to think and feel with the mind and heart of the audience. Do you like to listen to strings of five-dollar words? As an executive, are you comfortable listening to street slang in a boardroom? Do you feel uneasy when you hear a speaker stammer, forget the text, get embarrassed? Nope. So do everything in your power to try to imagine where these people – your audience – are coming from and then you come from there too.
3) Be clear
4) Give examples
How can your audience apply your idea in their day-to-day lives? As you go along, give them some clues. Know your product and its impact; know your concept and its impact. You heard it all probably a thousand times as the thing was being developed. Look back in your marketing briefing notes, in the notes you took at team meetings … ASK your family: How can this thing help you? And stick the answers into the speech. Some people need a diagram. Give them one!
5) No Technical Terms!
Never use technical language or complicated terms in a presentation speech. Wherever you can, use colloquial, simple language. Over-the-top sentences can only undermine the message … If this blog were written as a soliloquy, we would’ve lost you at the first sentence, right? So, whatever it is, just say it!
6) Tell a Story
Tell a good story. One that has a beginning, a middle and an end. A story your audience can feel connected to. Why do you think advertisers use puppies and kids and families to sell stuff? Because the viewer sees the ad and says, “Hey, I like puppies and kids!” Of course, the viewer doesn’t know he/she is being manipulated. But, hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! These ads sell! People start to care about the “people” in the ads. So: you’re creating a presentation? Same thing.
7) Ask Questions
Take breaks during the presentation to ask people in the audience about the material you’ve just presented. That way they’ll feel connected to you and probably pay more attention. And always leave time at the end to answer all the other questions.
Nobody gets up on any stage anywhere and is just brilliant with no rehearsal whatsoever. Not even Meryl Streep. No! These folks rehearse ‘til they can do the roles in their sleep. Likewise, that is how solid your presentation has to be. You need to rehearse to make the story like your own,to know the sequence of the slides, and to feel confident enough to make the audience feel nice and comfortable too.
Here at SOAP, when we ask a customer for a briefing, we always start by asking who’s going to be at the presentation. Not even SOAP can develop a good presentation without knowing who the audience will be! And we’ve learned that the best way to know an audience is to put ourselves in their shoes. So, do this while you’re putting together your next presentation and you’ll see just how much better it’ll go over.