I recently sat in a presentation with a friend of mine next to me. After the talk, I asked my friend what he thought of the presentation.

“To be honest,” he said, “I got distracted halfway through and couldn’t get back on track after. So I missed most.”

It happens to all of us. We get distracted easy. For a speaker, that means it is crucial to put elements into their presentations that will prevent that from happening.

How do you make your speech unpredictable and your audience engaged?

You want to keep your audience attention. But how? By adding in unpredictable elements to your speech. Elements that will keep your audience on their toes.

Which elements are that? Here are five.

(Bold) Statements

“You all think smoking kills? Let me tell you something. Do you know that the amount of people dying from diabetes are three times as many people as dying from smoking?”

It’s how Mohammed Qahtani, 2015 World Champion Public Speaking, starts his talk ‘The Power of Words’. The statement wasn’t correct, but that wasn’t what mattered. He got what he wanted: the attention of the audience. And a chance to explain his point.

Statements and especially bold statements are a great attention grabber. You trigger people to listen to you. They want to hear how you are going to prove your statement.

Qahtani was quite extreme in his statement. You don’t have to go that far. But you can still trigger. When pitching you could, for example, say something like “We are better than Apple”.

The important part: you’ll have to prove your statement after!

Being funny

A second way to get and keep the attention of your audience is to be funny. Make your audience smile and they will love you for it. Being funny is a great way to do that.

At the same time, being funny is tricky. Be careful here. Not everybody has the same humour. And you have to know the difference between being funny and telling a joke.

When it comes to being funny, timing is everything. And not too much. A funny story can help, but it has to be relatable to the topic of your talk! A good idea is to keep it personal and not insult your audience.

It is a great way to keep the attention. But as said, be careful, not everything is considered funny.

Tell a great story

We know that people are hardwired to listen to stories. When done well, telling stories is one of the most powerful tools in a presentation. A story keeps attention because people want to hear what comes next.

Telling a short story in your presentation can do wonders for the attention. What you want to do is connect the stories to the content of your talk. In other words: make it relevant.

I often use stories in my presentations. The stories can be about my kids, about anything. But I always make sure they connect to the topic of the talk.

Give them bold or surprising statistics

“According to Comscore, 25% of internet users have an ad blocker installed.”

It’s a sentence from one of my presentations. These statistics are staggering. It will make people think. “That’s a lot!” (or in some cases “that’s not much!”. Whenever I use statistics like these, I can see people look up, take pictures or write them down.

I have their attention at that point. Statistics do that. But like with the stories and fun stuff, it has to be relevant and at least a little bit bold. Telling your audience 100% of people drink water won’t help much.

Your slide design

The last way to get and keep attention is your slide design. We all know ‘death by PowerPoint’. Too many bullets will kill your presentation.

A great design will keep people focused. This can be the use of the right colours, but also usage of the right images.

Personally, I use a lot of animated gifs. These to me are like the pictures used in Harry Potter movies. They come to life.

It’s all about relevance

With all the things you can do to keep the attention, one thing is important: it has to be relevant. It has to make sense.

To conclude, I’d like to share my favourite gif to use in presentations. Here’s why I use this gif: it’s funny, it’s relevant and it tells a story. I use it to explain how we should always be looking beyond the obvious because that’s where the real gold lies.