How To Grab And Keep Audience Attention During A Presentation

One of the most important challenges for a presenter is first grabbing and then keeping the attention of an audience. If the presenter is unable to do this, the presentation might not succeed, no matter how valuable the content might be. When a presenter is waiting for his turn and slyly looks over the crowd before having to step in, panic tends to overwhelm. This is a familiar feeling for many.

Audiences might seem intimidating or too chaotic at first but there are ways to grab and keep their attention. We must remember here that grabbing their attention is not enough. We must hold their attention during the entire length of our presentation. Many speakers try to grab attention in numerous ways, e.g. by telling the latest joke or by making a flamboyant entry. This can grab attention but does not establish relevance, so after some time people might wander away or fall off.

This kind of attention grabbing trick, which is not actually relevant to the topic or theme of the presentation, may be effective in grabbing attention for the presenter momentarily, but then people see these as tricks and seldom remember the actual presentation or the message it had for them. Jumping on the table or landing on the stage from a helicopter would definitely catch the audience, but if your presentation is not as flamboyant and gripping the effect wears off quickly.

Here are some of the most commonly used methods for successfully getting and keeping audience attention.

1. Asking a question.

You can ask a rhetorical question or something that involves everyone by getting him or her to think about the topic.

  • How many of you in this room have hated filling up tax returns?
  • How many of you drive a German car?
  • Are our competitors driving us out of the market?

You can wait a short time after the question to get some information about your audience, but don’t wait too long as members of the audience feel stupid if no one knows the answer. Avoid open-ended questions and ask only questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no unless you are confident in skilfully using such questions. If you ask too general questions like “What is the purpose of life?” people might form an impression that your presentation is very general.

2.State an impressive fact.

Begin with a shocking, unusual or impressive fact connected to the theme of your presentation.

  • We are going to be out of business in six months if we allow our competitors to outrun us like this.
  • The demand in the market has doubled in the last three years and our market share has risen by only 1%.

3. Tell a story.

Telling a personal story closely connected to the theme of your presentation is a great way to begin. People usually like to hear personal stories, which are not too long or try to glorify the narrator too much.

Example:

Dear colleagues, before I begin I would like to tell you a short story about how our service got its name. Don’t worry, it’s not too long“.

A Tale from India

Three fish lived in a pond. One was named Plan Ahead, another was Think Fast, and the third was named Wait and See. One day they heard a fisherman say that he was going to cast his net in their pond the next day. Plan Ahead said, “I’m swimming down the river tonight! Think Fast said, “I’m sure I’ll come up with a plan.” Wait and See lazily said, “I just can’t think about it now!” When the fisherman cast his nets, Plan Ahead was long gone. But Think Fast and Wait and See were caught! Think Fast quickly rolled his belly up and pretended to be dead. “Oh, this fish is no good!” said the fisherman, and threw him safely back into the water. But, Wait and See ended up in the fish market. That is why they say, “In times of danger, when the net is cast, plan ahead or plan to think fast!

4. Cite a quotation.

Quotations are much used for presentations and they add a colourful touch to your personal style.

A short saying often contains much wisdom.” Sophocles (496 BC – 406 BC)

No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Though they may be impressive, quotations do not have much shock-value and could be forgotten quickly. So they should be augmented by other methods of gaining audience attention. Remember also that use quotations sparingly. If you use too many quotations, people start to think that you have nothing original to say as you’re always borrowing other people’s sayings.

5. Narrate a joke.

Jokes are wonderful for relaxing the audience and setting a cheerful mood. Relaxed audiences tend to be more interactive. This might make the presenters work somewhat easier.

The joke must be appropriate. People have very different senses of humor and you have to be very careful with jokes. What might produce rolls of laughter from one audience might cause stunned silence in another.

Experiment with the joke first with people you know to check how it works and if poor language skills hinder understanding of the joke. It is very embarrassing if you are the only one who gets the joke and no one can laugh for the right reason. Some jokes to avoid are sexual, religious, ethnic and political issues as people are very sensitive in these areas.

One thing to be careful about is the cultural relativity of humor. In many cultures the locals crack jokes about many things and everybody rolls in laughter, but the moment a person from another culture or overseas head office makes the same joke, it can cease to be a joke and become a cultural affront.

6. Go among the audience.

Presenters usually keep to the area in front, near the laptop or the transparency projector. This creates a comfort zone for many people in the audience. Some courageous presenters disturb this comfort zone of the audience by walking closer or going absolutely to one side. Then the primitive instincts of the people in their comfort zone start waking them up. “The presenter is so close and next he’ll even ask me something, so I better be alert“.

Attention-grabbing skills are important for establishing relevance to your audience. Most of the people in the audience are often not mentally present or with you when you begin to speak. Even if they are physically present there and are trying to look interested, in reality, they are in their own worlds. They are thinking about work matters, planning the rest of their day, thinking about a problem of their own or just daydreaming. You have to bring them into your world and get them interested in your subject.

Attention-grabbing skills are your tool for helping the audience tune in to your subject. These skills for grabbing audience attention is not about your ego, you’re just helping them to tune in. When you have something worthwhile saying, and your audience feel that you’re actually guiding them and helping them focus on your topic, they will appreciate this and reward you with eager attention and active participation. Then at the end you will feel elated as they clap to show their appreciation.

The best place to keep a presentation is a prison; they already have a captive audience.

Enjoy your presentations!

Your Presentation Skills May Be Great, But What About the Sound of Your Speaking Voice?

I have belonged to a public speaking network for some time now and it never ceases to amaze me that the members do not talk about the actual sound of the speaking voice. From topics covering the value of content versus delivery to the elimination of nervousness and even ways to find speaking engagements, they never discuss the image of the voice and what it says about them.

If your delivery is dynamic but your diction is hard to understand, then it really doesn’t matter how great your presentation skills because your audience is left unable to receive your message. Perhaps you speak too softly and they cannot hear you comfortably. On the other hand, maybe you are too loud and your sound being amplified by a speaker is painful to your listeners’ ears.

Your voice may be excessively nasal, whiny, shrill, wimpy, young-sounding, old-sounding, hoarse, gravelly, quivering, or just plain unattractive. What do you think any one of those characteristics would say about you? As a public speaker, your voice is the vehicle for your words. If you take courses in and read articles about presentation skills, would you not want to do something about your vocal image – that which is transporting your message? (By the way, I’m talking about the voice you hear on your answering machine, not the one you hear in your head!)

What is fascinating is that we all have a better voice inside, we’re just not aware of it. It is richer, warmer, deeper in pitch, resonant, and has the ability to be projected without shouting. In addition, your ‘real’ voice – versus your habitual one – can last for greater lengths of time without doing damage to your throat and vocal folds (cords). This is known as vocal abuse and is common among politicians and public speakers. Hilary Clinton and Anthony Robbins are two very good examples of vocal abuse. The latter’s voice has deteriorated to such a degree that he needs steroids in order to speak for great lengths of time. That should never have happened.

Voice training is something all public speakers should consider because the voice is truly the fundamental, the building block. Everything else is the icing on the cake. Without a voice, there is no public speaking. Without the cake, the icing really doesn’t matter.

I discovered my real voice many years ago and it is only improving with age. It’s a marvelous feeling to have total control over your voice no matter what the situation. What image is your voice projecting?

Become a Better Negotiator – Work on Your Communication Skills

Is it possible that we’ve got the idea of negotiation all wrong?

Some of us do, anyway. It’s easy to think of negotiation as a game, or a contest-especially when you’re good at it! As you approach the table for a negotiation, it can be tempting to think about how you might crush your opponent, or how you might try to get as many of your terms agreed to as possible.

But in the end, that’s an empty and ineffective approach. Negotiation should really be about compromise. It should be about both parties involved feeling like they got something of valuable-not necessarily all of their wishes met, but at least a fair shake.

Everyone should walk away from the negotiation table feeling good about things; that’s the idea, anyway. It’s ideal because it builds a foundation for a long-term relationship from which both parties benefit. Consider: If the settlement you reach is lopsided or unfair, at least one party is going to be reluctant to come back to the negotiation table again. It’s essentially a burned bridge.

It’s not about winners and losers, then. Negotiation is really about clear and effective communication. Communication is how you arrive at a conclusion that leaves you happy, but also leaves your partner feeling like he or she was heard and respected.

The Lost Art of Listening

So what are the communication skills you need in order to be a more effective negotiator? Here’s an important tip: The list doesn’t begin with speaking. It begins with listening. Active listening is perhaps the most significant communication skill you will ever learn, and it’s what separates great negotiators from inexperienced and ineffective ones.

As the other person talks, don’t just think about how you’re going to respond, or what you’re going to say next. That’s a quick way to lose invaluable information. Instead, really focus on understanding the person’s values, goals, and point of view. Encourage the person to keep talking, rather than rushing to jump back into the dialogue. “Keep going,” is something great negotiators say all the time. Or: “Go on!”

Remember to read between the lines, too. It’s not just about what’s being said, but what’s being implied. Even body language can be telling. Be alert to whether the person seems open, calm, frustrated, or standoffish.

Reentering the Conversation

Even when you do start your part of the discussion again, your goal shouldn’t necessarily be to start rambling. Instead, ask questions. Try to learn what the other person is aiming for, and where you might find common ground. The more information you can gather, the better prepared you will be to reach an agreeable settlement.

Hopefully, your questions will encourage the other negotiator to follow suit and make some inquiries of you; that’s when you’ll really start arriving at common ground. In any case, work through your conversation as though it is a collaboration. Don’t communicate like you’re speaking to an adversary; communicate like you’re speaking with a colleague, someone with whom you’re working together to find a solution to a shared problem.

Remember that negotiation is about moving forward together. It may sound counterintuitive, but that’s the best way to reach an agreement that truly satisfies.