10 simple things you can do to engage the audience

How often have you been distracted or disengaged when in the audience at a presentation?

We love to poll our audiences at Jeremy Cassell Coaching. Recent evidence suggested 48% of the respondents admitted to doing something other than listening during a presentation—popular answers included sending a text message (23 percent), checking email (27 percent), talking to a co-worker (14 percent), falling asleep (14 percent), being distracted by something happening in the room (24 percent). To say the least, it can be difficult to hold an audience’s attention, let alone get your message across when presenting. Our brains drift and work fast. We need to think very carefully about how we can eliminate distractions and engage the audience.

How do you engage your audience and ensure they stay focused and involved? Here are 10 simple things you can do – practical ideas that I use every week in presentations.

1. Avoid unnecessary distractions

It’s very hard to focus on a speaker when there are obvious distractions. So, as a presenter, ensure the temperature is just right, there are no lighting issues, the audience isn’t hungry, you stick to the allotted time, they can see the slides,  and you are not jangling coins in your pocket. Get the basics right.

2. Make presentations fun

I have been witness to so many boring presentations. Have you? Make them fun for you and the audience. Boring = overly professional, slide-centric, not focused on audience. Fun = amusing, entertaining, enjoyable.

3. Start well

Plan the first few minutes carefully. Audiences make fast decisions – make sure the decision is: this presenter is interesting and worth listening to! You can do this by employing a spike. A spike is a sentence or series of short sentences that gets to the heart of what you want to say. For example: ‘Presenters are made, not born’, ‘50% of the world’s population have neither made, nor received a phone call’. I heard a great, if worrying one, recently. The person was talking about sustainability: ‘There are 70 harvests left for us as humans’.

Employ an icebreaker – get the audience to briefly answer a question in pairs or use a brain game.

Create cognitive dissonance by starting a story and finishing at the end. You create an open loop and the audience wants to hear the end of the story and they remain engaged throughout.

4. Use all the senses

How can you utilise all the senses in your presentation? Have music playing at the start, serve fresh croissants, put toys around the room , use posters for your key messages, get the audience to move around.

5. Remember the 10-minute rule

The audience’s attention drops to zero after just 10 minutes of your presentation. That’s right, 10 minutes. So, break up your presentation into easy to consume bite-size chunks.

6. Make all presentations interactive

We tend to assume that if we say something in our presentations, people will get it. As if it was a direct brain-to-brain transfer of information. This is not how transfer of information happens. Use activities, live polls, Q & A and if you are using Prezi embrace the power of non-linear presenting. Try letting your audience drive the presentation.

7. Create engaging visual aids

I have seen so many awful slides – bullet points, too much information, you name it. Create audience-centric slides and then use flip charts, story boards, film clips; anything to break up that slide routine we can all so easily fall into.

8. Use stories all the time

Stories are naturally engaging. For millennia this is how we have communicated. Use your own or other stories, metaphors or analogies to bring your presentations to life.

9. Embrace the idea of using humour

Humour shines a light on the absurdity of so much human behaviour. It means you also don’t take yourself too seriously, and that relaxes the audience. Life is getting too serious. Over 70% of adults smile less than 20 times a day at work. It’s good to laugh. Laughter benefits many of the body’s vital organs; the respiratory, cardiovascular, hormonal and even immune systems. Even smiling releases beneficial endorphins.

10. Share the glory

Don’t steal all the glory for yourself. Share the stage with other presenters or the audience members to help you narrate the story and make the whole presentation more interactive. Steve Jobs never pulled off the entire presentation by himself; he always invited several speakers, including designers, partners, and other executives, to help him introduce their latest product. Do the same.

There we have it – my top 10 ideas. How many do you use now? Which ones can you use tomorrow? Please, please, please – find ways to make presentations interactive, engaging and memorable. I am sure you, like me, have had enough of boring presentations.

Want to find out more about the other 11 Habits of Exceptional Presenters?

You can download my guide to the 12 Habits of Exceptional Presenters right here.

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