6 Presentation Tips for Keeping Your Audience Awake

Last Updated: September 24, 2018
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It’s finally time to deliver your presentation to a real, live audience. You’ve spent countless hours researching your topic, putting together slides and rehearsing what you’ll say. You’ve internalized your key points as well as the data you need to back them up. It’s almost showtime. But you’re still facing one last hurdle to pulling off a successful presentation: battling with limited audience attention span.

While there’s no exact known limit to the average adult’s attention span, many experts place it somewhere around 10 to 20 minutes, give or take a few. The fact is, there will come a point when your audience starts to lose focus. And whether you manage to re-engage viewers or not will affect the overall impact of your presentation.

Consider incorporating one or more of these six presentation tips for keeping your audience awake.

Drop a Relevant Statistic

One aspect of giving a presentation that’s difficult to accept is the fact that your audience will not walk away with the same level of understanding you have about your topic. While you’ve had plenty of time to digest and reflect upon the subject matter, your audience has not. Some information will inevitably slip through the cracks.

In fact, most listeners will likely walk away holding onto only a few key points. Knowing this ahead of time allows you to incorporate a memorable—perhaps even surprising—statistic to great effect. Cite the kind of statistic you might overhear someone relaying after the fact: “Did you know X?”

Of course, the statistic must relate directly to the content of your presentation. This tactic is especially effective if you end by offering recommendations.

Change the Volume

One word you don’t want people to use to describe your presentation is “monotonous.” Even the most straightforward subject matters can benefit from varied speaking tones. Bring your audience on your narrative journey by altering your volume to match what you’re saying. These peaks and valleys will help keep things interesting by engaging the sense of hearing.

Get Collaborative

One way to beat audience boredom is to get collaborative. Turn passive listeners into active participants by asking the audience to respond to a poll or contribute to a word cloud using their mobile devices. Not only is this a fun activity for your audience, but you can even use all the audience feedback you collect to modify the course of your presentation on the fly.

Refer to a Visual Aid

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes for a moment. It can be taxing to sit through slide after slide; notecard after notecard of information delivered verbally. Visual aids serve to break up these repetitive patterns, as well as to break down complex information into a much more digestible format.

Consider the difference between trying to describe a place you visited versus showing someone a photograph. One relevant image can convey more than several minutes of straight description. And when you combine the power of oral storytelling plus visual aids, you have an even better chance of helping your audience absorb and retain what you’re saying.

Ask a Rhetorical Question

A pause can be an effective method of re-engaging your audience. When you ask your audience a rhetorical question—that is, one they’re not meant to answer literally but are instead meant to ponder—you ask them to stop and think. This is a great way to build intrigue around your subject matter and pull audience members out of any daydreams they might have been having.

Take a Short Break

If you’re delivering a particularly long talk, build in breaks for stretching, checking phones, chatting with neighbors and the like. This will help viewers get it out of their system.

Keeping your audience awake is a key part of delivering a great presentation, so consider how you plan to do so before the big day.

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