‘How do I keep my audience awake for any length of time?’
Many speakers make the mistake of conceptualizing their presentation in terms of length. It’s an unhappy fact that most companies have a one hour presentation standard. In my opinion, the length of a presentation should be a secondary thought. I have seen people present for hours with the audience hanging on to every word. But I’ve seen far more speakers that put everyone to sleep within minutes. So a 3 minute presentation can be too long if you are convincingly boring and a 12 hour speech can seem too short if you are interesting.
There is only one rule of thumb: present for as long as you need to reach your objective. If you can cover your key points in an interesting way, the length of your presentation doesn’t matter. So don’t attack the length of the presentation, but the boredom. Research consistently shows that our attention drops after 10 minutes. (And if you ask me, you can never present longer than 2 minutes without losing part of your audience.) You need to (re)connect to your audience every 1 or 2 minutes and entertainment is the key to succcess. Here are 5 ways to present for any length of time while captivating the audience:
1. Questions: you can’t not react to questions. Questions activate any brain, so it’s a surefire way to learn more about the audience and to guide them towards your world and your presentation subject. Especially when you open your presentation. Bus also throughout the presentation, every couple of minutes. A simple but effective tip: start every slide with a question. Just rephrase your title into a question. They can be open or closed questions. For example, if the slide title is ‘3 ways to increase our revenue’, ask ‘So what can we do to increase our revenue? I will share 3 strategies with you.’ Try it the next time you present, it works!
2. What I’m going to tell you now is the most important part of this blog… The essence of this blog is…. My favorite part of this blog is… Don’t tell anyone this tip, but… What did I just do? I made you sit up in your chair, and you want to know more right? I have activated your brain with what I call ‘flag words‘ – words or sentences that have no particular content but build awareness. So just build a flag sentence before your key points, and you can be sure they will be remembered.
3. The voice is un understimated tool in the presenting world. Just like your content should be structured like a roller coaster (with lots of wow moments), so should your voice. Tip: start every slide with a high power voice to grab attention. Then your voice can lower untill your click to your next slide. With high impact moments (like the opening or close), move towards the audience and talk in a slow but powerful way to command extra attention. When you are explaining something or when you tell a story or anecdote, power up your voice and put extra energy into it. And the best way to get everyone to look at you? Just stop talking. A pauze can work miracles (and it also gives people time to digest your information).
4. Make sure you don’t cover too many concepts. It’s the best way to send people on a mental holiday. People only have room for 3 chunks of information in their short time memory, so structure your presentation around these points. The more you tell, the less your audience will remember.
5. Make sure you offer a new stimulus every 10 minutes. No one wants to listen to someone for longer than 10 minutes. Include video’s, demo’s, client testimonials, quotes, quizzes to keep the attention span high.
My personal advice? I believe any idea or concept can be told in 20 minutes flat. If not, you have not spent enough time preparing your presentation and you are making your audience work too hard. Remember, has anyone ever complained about a presentation being too short?
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