Most of us have experienced sitting through a long presentation that leaves us feeling drained. Here are some tips to incorporate while you are presenting to help keep it engaging and accessible.
Once you have the attention of your audience, how do you maintain engagement?
Audience engagement can start off relatively high and drop throughout the course of a speech or presentation. This doesn’t mean that the content isn’t important, but humans tend to lose focus after a while due to our short attention spans.
To keep people interested, you can include content that is:
- Insightful or new. Provide the audience with a fact or idea that they may never have heard before. Something which will provoke an emotional response, like a surprising statistic.
- A story or joke. Our brains are naturally engaged by stories. Even better if you can make it humorous. Stories can be an easy way to get your audience to remember bits of information.
- A question. While a stream of information allows your audience to listen passively, asking questions can help your listeners to remain alert and responsive.
Ask a question to encourage audience participation. You can find out what your audience already knows, create a more interactive environment, encourage a variety of voices and you may even learn something new yourself!
Technology can go a long way to help make your presentation accessible. Invest in a good microphone and ensure your internet connection is stable. Both of these things will improve the clarity of your voice.
Speak clearly and slowly, using simple language. Take short breaks to allow people to process information, especially when switching between topics. Make sure you are presenting from a place that is visible to everyone in the room or online.
If someone asks a question either in-person or online, it may not be audible to everyone, so repeat the question before you
Finally, be flexible and accommodating. Participants may have requirements you weren’t aware of and weren’t able to plan for. Following these accessibility tips will make your presentations more inclusive but it will be easier to cater for someone if you ask them about their specific needs. Make sure to communicate with participants beforehand so nobody is excluded. For example, ask participants if they have any special requirements on the registration form.
When possible, you should avoid reading out text written on a presentation slide. There is a cognitive effect known as the 'split attention effect' or the 'redundancy effect'. When the same information is presented in two formats the brain must deal with twice the cognitive load, both listening and reading. To reduce this load, the brain avoids processing both streams of information. This means that audience members might retain less of your content.
Although presentation slides might make it easier for audience members to take notes, the redundancy effect means there is a higher probability they will forget the content of your presentation. If you speak more slowly or allow note-taking breaks you can avoid this issue and maintain engagement and retention.
For more information and demonstrations of public speaking techniques, we recommend the following videos: