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.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Being the last speaker at an event can be daunting for speakers. But there are actually some big opportunities. Make being the last speaker work for you!
Every speaker wants a good ‘connection’ with the audience. In some cases, that can be quite hard. Not all audiences are the same. And some audiences, you have to ‘convince’. Wouldn’t it be great if your audience would listen engaged to every word you had to say? It’s possible.
There are a few ways to connect to your audience. Some are easy. And your audience will feel closer to you, without you being too obvious about it.
Many speakers are very self-focused when they are on stage. Most of the time, this is not intentional. But speakers want to do a good job. So they focus on the job they feel is most important: the words and the slides.
If you focus only there, you will lose the attention of the audience. Because there is no connection.
A good speaker has to know what happens in the room, at all times. Are people paying attention, are they bored, are they engaged? Who is laughing and who isn’t? And who seems to agree or disagree with you?
If you feel the room agrees or doesn’t agree, for example, act on it. Tell them “I see some people disagree, that’s fine, here’s why I feel it is like this…”
The mere fact that you are responding to their movements shows you care. And caring means connecting.
It’s common advice for speakers: “Look to all parts of the room and focus on some people”. Great advice, but you need to be careful with this. If you ‘glance’ over the audience too much, they will feel neglected. They feel you don’t ‘see’ them.
What you want is a real connection. This means looking people in the eye. In fact, look at some people a bit longer. Not too long, that gets creepy, but long enough to get the connection. Get a smile even. It will bring you closer.
Smiling is one of the most underestimated parts of public speaking. If you want to connect, the audience must feel you like them. And if you are not smiling, how will they ever feel you like them?
Once you show you are enjoying yourself on stage, the audience will become part of that. And they will feel closer to you.
How to make people smile? Sometimes you can do that with jokes. Being funny does help. If you can make the audience smile, they will feel closer to you.
Now there is a danger here. If your joke backfires, you could lose all the connection. So think about jokes. Don’t offend people. Don’t make fun of specific groups. Be lighthearted and funny. The best person to joke about is you.
Which brings me to a very important part of your presentation. You have to make any presentation you do personal. People bond with you, not with the presentation. So as soon as you can make part of the presentation personal, you will get closer to the audience.
This doesn’t mean you have to keep telling stories about yourself or your kids all the time. It does mean, you want to connect the content of the presentation to your personality. Show the connection between you and what you are trying to get across. People will like you, and your talk, better.
If you talk about stuff that people can’t relate to, you make it hard for them. It can be almost like you are talking to them in a foreign language. How do you feel when you are part of a conversation between two people speaking a language you don’t understand? You feel left out.
You want to avoid people feeling left out. Even when you are talking about difficult topics. You want to sometimes bring it back to basics. The best way of doing that is to refer to things people already know. Sometimes that is an analogy, sometimes it’s going back to something everybody knows.
If you refer to what people know, you give them trust and they will get closer to you.
There are speakers who stand behind a desk. And there are those (like myself) who like to walk around. I prefer the walking way, for several reasons. For one, it’s a way of getting closer to your audience.
By physically getting closer to your audience, you will make them feel closer to you as well. So walk towards them. Make them ‘part’ of your presentation. And it will create a bond.
Finally, compliment the audience. Tell them how great they are.
There are several parts in the presentation where you can do this. At the start, you can make a compliment about the location, the city that you are in or the company that you are presenting at. During the talk, you can tell them you can see they are a smart audience. “I don’t need to tell you this, you know this”, shows you feel they are smart. And at the end of the talk, you can say you enjoyed their presence.
A compliment can do many things!
As you can see, there are many ways of getting a connection with your audience. The one important thing you have to keep in mind is that it has to be about them. They need to be able to recognise themselves.
The best way of doing that is by telling a story. People love stories. Not only because they are fun, but because it’s part of our DNA. Stories are part of our everyday life. Each day we tell each other stories. Each day we listen to stories.
When we hear a story, we listen better. We remember more. And we trust the source of a story. This is why storytelling is such a powerful tool. And this is why storytelling needs to be part of any type of talk that you do.
But Storytelling isn’t easy. That’s why we created a class for you that shows you exactly how to create a perfect story, over and over again.
“You have to connect with your audience”. It’s a sentence you can read in almost any book about public speaking or hear at any training session. You want the audience to get involved.
The books and the trainers are right. It’s good to get a connection with the audience. Once you have the connection, the audience is much more inclined to believe what you are saying. They trust you, so they will be more open to you. If they don’t trust you, your story, no matter how good, will not “do” anything. It won’t “live” and the audience won’t remember your important messages.
I always try to find the connection with the audience. Sometimes that is easier said than done. But I try.
At a conference a few years ago, I tried out something new. I asked my audience for help. Let me explain.
My talk was about Understanding your audience using data-driven marketing. It’s a topic I speak about more often and help businesses with.
As a speaker, it sometimes can be difficult to get a grip on your audience. They always come from different backgrounds. So they will perceive your talk in different ways.
In this case, I wanted to make an effort to understand my audience. That’s why I asked my audience for feedback. Right there and then. Asking for feedback is difficult. When asked, most people won’t tell you the truth. Or they keep it too simple: good, medium or bad. This doesn’t help me much to understand what they are taking away from my talk.
Every audience is always making notes. On their computer, tablet or on paper. I decided I wanted to see these notes. So I asked the audience to tweet out a picture of their notes after my session.
I knew that this was tricky to do in Sweden. The audience in the Nordics is often a bit more reserved than somewhere else. They are knowledgeable but less interactive.
In this case, the result was great.
I got regular tweets with feedback and feedback in person afterward. And even better: I got pictures of the notes from some nice and helpful people in the audience.
Looking at the notes helped me figure out a few things about my speech. Things that can help me improve my talks for next times. Here are a few learnings from the notes:
Some nice learnings there for me. I already knew about some of them. But there was some refreshing new information. For me, it was a success.
And somehow (but I haven’t checked that) I think this helped the audience as well. They will hopefully look at their notes in a different way.