Sometimes, a well-designed presentation isn’t enough to engage a disinterested crowd. According to a study by Lloyds TSB Insurance, in just one decade, people’s attention spans have dropped drastically from twelve to five minutes.
Your speech’s success still depends on how well you command interest. By exuding confidence and credibility, how you look and carry yourself will leverage your power to convince.
Looking your best is your top priority, but you also have to avoid distracting or making your listeners tune out. Here are five simple ways you can keep their attention like a presentation expert:
1. Dress for the Part
Even before you utter a word, your listeners judge you based on what you wear. The right clothes highlight your competence and integrity, while inappropriate fashion choices might divert the attention from your speech or discard your credibility.
Don’t wear distracting clothes with bright neon colors and conspicuous patterns. Stick to neutral and pastel colors, and lean towards shirts with solid colors. Make sure brand logos are unobtrusive, as they draw unneeded attention.
Always gauge the level of formality required of an event and dress appropriately. Wearing a tuxedo to a simple sales pitch is unnecessary, while wearing a bikini to a conference will likely be seen as highly inappropriate. Revealing outfits are perceived by most cultures as a sign of promiscuity, thus reducing your perceived credibility.
On the other hand, too many layers of clothing put more distance between you and your audience, making you seem guarded and stiff.
Although there’s no general guide to dressing properly for every event, just be aware of existing customs and conventions so you can choose the right attire fitting to the occasion.
2. Win with Your Body Language
Successful presenters use their body language to look more credible. They also use it to enhance and complement their message. Conversely, inappropriate or unnecessary movements will make you appear nervous, unprepared, or unqualified in your field.
A powerful stance demands attention and ensures that people stay tuned in to your pitch. Make sure to stand straight but relaxed, to communicate confidence and authority. Slouching or hunching over suggests lethargy and weakness, tuning your audience off.
Appropriate hand gestures and motions also highlight important ideas. Use only deliberate movements and gestures that complement and enforce your speech’s purpose.
Exaggerated or uncontrolled gestures risk eliciting laughter instead of retaining attention.
Avoid motions and hand gestures that divert attention without meaningfully contributing to your message.
For instance, don’t make a closed fist or point at your listeners. These actions are interpreted as signs of aggression, and may unintentionally break the flow or even offend.
3. Simplify, But Don’t Over-Explain
People don’t like being bombarded with words that don’t directly contribute to the message.
You want to have a smooth flow that aptly tackles your major points. Don’t break the flow by lingering on ideas that might easily be understood without further clarification.
Gauge how technical your approach needs to be by knowing the crowd beforehand. Simplify your content while still supporting your thesis, but don’t expand on every bit of information on your slides.
An informed assembly won’t want to be spoon-fed information. Over-explaining concepts or ideas they already know will only bore and tune them out.
Ensure that your message is engaging and easy to grasp in order to inform, entertain, or persuade them.
Presenting on energy efficiency to a crowd of environmental scientists probably won’t need explanation of specific jargon to their field. However, if you’re presenting the same topic to politicians and policy-makers who aren’t as familiar with the subject, you’ll need to simplify and explain those terms.
A streamlined presentation engages listeners effectively, while a protracted arrangement will bore and tune them out.
4. Speak Up, But Don’t Shout
An audible voice and clear enunciation make or break your delivery.
However, being audible doesn’t necessarily mean being loud.
What’s important is your vocal projection. What you say should be clearly heard without strain on the part of your listeners.
Also consider the size of both the gathering and the venue, and know if your voice will be electronically magnified (via a microphone) or not.
Practice speaking in front of three different groups: one of fifty, one of eight, and a single person. This trains you on adjusting your voice’s loudness for different circumstances.
All speakers want to be properly heard, but none would wish to be seen as unpleasant or boorish.
5. Don’t Step into the Light
Just because deck and presenter work together doesn’t mean that they should physically meet.
There’s no greater sin than stepping into the projected image.
A moving shadow on your screen is a great distraction that ruins your design’s fluidity. Having visual elements projected on your person is highly unflattering, and might have unintentional comic results.
Use a laser pointer or pointer stick to direct attention to important elements.
Blogger and educator Lisa Nielsen also suggests a free and simple pointer for any occasion: the computer’s mouse cursor.
A well-made presentation does a lot towards conveying your message, but it hardly matters if you can’t command people’s full attention or if you commit errors which ruin your credibility.
Don’t take all the previous tips as ways to compensate for a lackluster deck.
Instead, use these to complement and boost a good one by ensuring that your audience will be active listeners and willing recipients of your message.
“Body Language: Signify Intent with Movement.” SlideGenius, Inc. October 20, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.
“How to Dress for a Public Speech.” UCCS. Accessed May 5, 2015.
Moore, Matthew. “Stress of Modern Life Cuts Attention Spans to Five Minutes.” The Telegraph. November 26, 2008. Accessed May 5, 2015.
“Occam’s Razor and Simplifying Presentation Content.” SlideGenius, Inc. July 30, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.
“The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard.” Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator. Accessed May 5, 2015.
“Your Voice Is The Most Valuable Presentation Tool.” SlideGenius, Inc. January 27, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.