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3 Keys to Emphasizing an Important Point

Your audience won’t be paying attention 100% of the time. Some will be more interested while others will be momentarily distracted.

Bring audience attention back to you when the time comes to deliver your most important point.

Pay attention to the central message, since this what the audience should remember after listening to your pitch. Use body language, vocal timing, and slide positioning to let the audience know when it’s time to hear the main part of your presentation.

Maximize Audience Attention

Citing Susan Weinschenk’s best-selling book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, media trainer Brad Phillips estimates a 10-minute cap on people’s attention spans. The brain can only hold attention for about this long before losing focus. Make it a habit to scan the audience for their reactions every 10 minutes or earlier. When the audience starts to look uninterested and listless, establish eye contact with them.

Make sure to look at each and every person in your field of vision while speaking. In a large crowd, scan the first row, the middle, and then the furthest in the back. Doing this shows that you’re paying attention to them, and makes them feel they’re part of the discussion.

This is also a subtle way of getting each person’s attention without making them uncomfortable. The direct and stronger approach would be to point with your finger, but this can be misconstrued as rude and imposing. When you have their attention back, proceed to introduce your main point.

Command with Your Voice

Lowering instead of increasing your voice’s volume invites the audience to listen more closely. This doesn’t mean that you should whisper for your entire presentation. Speak in a hushed tone just before you say something important as if telling them a secret.

Signal the audience that you’re about to deliver a crucial part of your presentation. You can do this with phrases like “what this is all about”, “the main thing to remember”, “this is important,” etc. Then pause every few words, effectively slowing down your speech.

This builds up anticipation and also gives you a chance to take a break. Reveal the information when the audience is already attentive.

The Big Reveal

There should be one slide that encapsulates your entire idea in as few words as possible. A single word filling up the entire slide creates a bigger impact than an entire paragraph. Some remember information better when they see a visual aid, so choose a relevant image with your concept.

Continuously refer back to this slide to repeatedly emphasize your point. But going back to previous slides disrupts the flow of your speech. Instead of going back through slides, repeat the same slide throughout the presentation.

Since repetition helps in memory recall, you can drive your point home using this method.

Orchestrate Events

Know when and how to reel your audience back to you. Start by gauging the attentiveness of your audience through eye contact, then invite them back. Make them feel how important what you’re about to reveal in the next few moments is.

Gently persuade them through carefully timed pauses and vocal tone. Dedicate one slide for your big reveal. This can be a single word, phrase, picture, or any combination of each.Repeat this slide throughout your deck so you don’t have to keep going back. Create the upwards momentum using these methods when emphasizing an important point.

How to Tame the Bullet Points in Presentations

The brain is efficient at discarding useless chunks of memories, but the most embarrassing and boring ones never leave the brain. Flashbacks from a long, drawn out lecture enter the mind out of nowhere. Most of the time, the boring lectures come with a hail of bullet points. Then another flashback sets in… and it turns out you were giving that presentation riddled with bullet points.

There are no set rules for using the bullet point, which makes it difficult to know how to use it successfully. Technically, bulleted lists are only a matter of format. They should contain key points that will be discussed during the presentation.

Let’s take a look at this example:

Tame Bullet Points

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Bread

The above is a simple grocery list. It’s composed of three distinct items, which are then separated from each other through bullet points. Even without writing these items down in a list again, they’re easy to understand and recall. Now, compare it with this bullet list:

Wild Bullet Points

  • Milk
  • The eggs should be brown.
  • Bread
    • Sandwich
    • Toast
    • Banana bread

The latter looks disjointed and confusing for different reasons: inconsistent formatting, too many bullet points, and difficult recall. The first two items nested under “bread” are different ways to prepare bread, while the last item is a type of bread. Eliminate the three items under bread to maintain the general idea of the list, since the three sub-bullets are specific.

The list is more difficult to recall than the former because the general and specific ideas are mixed together. A specific list will have different kinds of bread, and other types of milk and eggs. Ideas need to be refined further and follow consistent formatting.

Troubleshooting

If a bulleted list looks too much like the latter example, there are several ways to simplify it and make it look more like the former.

1. Don’t play mind games

In the context of creating a deck, if the bullet points only make sense in the mind of the speaker, then the audience takes the burden of trying to understand the information. A presentation has new information for the audience, therefore it’s wrong to assume that they possess this information beforehand.

2. Hold their hand

The poorly made bullet list in the latter example branches off wildly in all directions, completely disregarding the audience. According to Think Outside the Slide‘s Dave Paradi, a consistent style is necessary to avoid confusion. Hold their attention by showing bullet points of the main topics, then explaining each topic.

3. Prevent a bullet point tragedy

The most boring kind of bullet list is the kind that pretends to be a bullet list. A group of sentences is called a paragraph, but a bullet list of sentences is a paragraph formatted unnecessarily. Be careful not to mislead the audience into thinking that the bullet-list-paragraph is a bullet list.

4. Maintain harmony

Ideas get along well with each other through formatting and style. Format the topics as a sentence, phrase, or a single word for a bulleted list. If the bullet point begins with the first word capitalized, then the rest of the list should follow the same format. Consistency is important since discrepancies are distracting from the flow of thought and information.

5. Use Bullet Points Sparingly

Bullet points are key points for the audience, not a series of cue cards for the speaker. Use as few bullet points as possible to break up a presentation visually and to avoid overloading the audience with information. Insert an image between slides, and make sure to break up big chunks of information down for the audience.

The Verdict

It’s important not to accidentally play a game of PowerPoint-Karaoke by reading bullet-list-paragraphs throughout the presentation. Break up information by using a bulleted list with proper formatting and just enough information for easier recall. The proper usage of the bullet list is important to successfully get a point, or several points, across.

Finally, free yourself of the flashbacks of bullet list tragedies and exercise the responsible use and control of bullet points.

References

Paradi, Dave. “How to Write Powerful Bullet Points.” ThinkOutsideTheSlide. Accessed on October 2, 2015. www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com

Featured Image: Bearpit Karaoke” by sfreimark from flickr.com