Creating and delivering an effective presentation can be a challenge. In today's environment of rapid communication and access to information, audiences expect engaging presentations that are tailored to their needs. To capture and hold attention, you have to use effective presentation techniques to ensure that your message is memorable. The opening moments of your presentation often can determine whether your presentation is successful or falls short of expectations.
These days, delivering a presentation is tough. With the proliferation of electronic equipment such as Web-enabled cell phones and other handheld devices, you've got a lot of competition for your audience's attention. It's now easier than ever for your audience to tune you out or give in to the temptation to multitask. With busy workloads and time demands, everyone is looking for ways to maximize any spare moment. No doubt people are thinking about many things other than the presentation you have planned for them.
While you may not like to think so, many of your audience members will be wondering if listening to your presentation is going to be worth their time. Why is it likely that your audience members will think your presentation will be boring? Unfortunately, that is what they have been trained to expect. Many presentations follow a canned and predictable pattern. The speaker introduces himself and then launches into a never-ending series of slides. When you follow in these footsteps, it is easy for the audience to quickly jump to the conclusion that their email device is going to be much more interesting than you.
So how do you overcome these preconceived notions? Over the years, I've had many people tell me they would like to be more effective speakers. They usually say that although they would like to improve, they are just not dynamic or entertaining. Standing out from the crowd doesn't mean that you have to become a Hollywood-style entertainer. There are subtle changes you can implement during the first minutes of your next presentation that will help you stand out.
1. Own the Room
One of the ways to capture the attention of your audience is to do so before your presentation even starts. Many presentations provide you with an opportunity to "own the room." Owning the room means conveying to your audience that you are fully prepared and ready to deliver your presentation.
For groups that you have not met, you can greet your participants as they arrive. Not only are you building rapport with the group, but you also can use this time to gather information about them. What do they already know about the topic you are about to present? What are they hoping to learn during your session? What questions do they have about your subject? You can then weave this information into your presentation.
Being visible and available prior to your presentation sends a message to your audience that you are confident and prepared. Contrast this with a speaker who is huddled in a corner of the room going over his notes as participants arrive. The first impression you create often begins from the moment your audience first sees you. In addition to building rapport and conveying confidence, you are also helping them to resist the urge to quickly check their e-mail or voicemail.
You can use this strategy even when you are conducting an in-house presentation for people you already know. Rather than sitting quietly reviewing your notes, you can make connections with the people you will be presenting to. Engaging group members in conversation, asking questions, etc., can help you focus on their needs.
2. Choose a Better Opening
Too often presenters use a predictable, boring opening that does little to capture audience attention. To breathe new life into your next presentation opening, consider these alternatives:
• Tell a story. Use a story to draw people into your topic.
Example: "Today we are going to explore the techniques for sales success. Let me start by telling you about the time I almost lost a $100,000 sale."
• Describe a recent headline. Use facts from a news headline that relate to your topic.
Example: "According to a recent news report, 60 percent of consumers would like to have better access to product pricing comparison information. During my presentation, I will be sharing with you some of the ways we are helping consumers to get that information."
• Use data or statistics. Find survey results or data that relate to your topic.
Example: "We recently completed a study of our company's production effectiveness. One item that caught our attention was our rate of production errors. That number actually decreased dramatically, and I'll share those numbers with you during my presentation this morning."
• Start from a different location. You can capture attention by starting your presentation from an unexpected location.
Example: Most people will expect you to begin your presentation at the front of the room. Break out of that presentation rut by starting from a different point in the room. Stand to the side or begin speaking from the back of the room. By adding a variation to the expected beginning, you can signal that your presentation will be different.
3. Create Positive Expectations
An often-overlooked aspect of presentation is the power of creating expectations. Whenever you present to a group, you have an opportunity to build a case for your audience to stay engaged and involved. Consider these two examples of setting expectations:
• "Our topic today is customer service. We are going to talk about what you have to do to improve customer satisfaction and why that is important."
• "Today we will be exploring the benefits of effective customer service. During this presentation, you are going to discover three strategies that you can use immediately to dramatically increase customer satisfaction. I will also be sharing valuable tools that you will want to hear about because they have been proven to increase bottom line results by 30 percent."
Which presentation opening captured your attention? Were you more intrigued by the promise of strategies that could be used immediately or the topic of customer service? In the second example, the speaker has sparked interest by giving the audience a preview of the key elements of the presentation.
I recall a national convention that I attended a few years ago, where the presenter failed to tap the power of creating positive expectations. The audience had just returned from lunch, and, after the speaker was introduced, he started by telling the group that he knew this was going to be difficult for him and for us. He told us that we were probably ready to take a nap after having a big lunch. He went on to say that this would be compounded by the fact that the lights were dimmed and that we were all probably exhausted after several days of attending meetings. He also apologized for his topic by saying that the subject matter was probably going to be boring. He asked us to try to stay awake during his presentation. Predictably, people began to yawn and settle in for their naps!
Capturing and holding audience attention is essential for a winning presentation. The good news is that it is easy to stand out from the crowd. By paying attention to the impression you create as your audience arrives and by using creative alternatives to a typical opening, you can set an expectation with your audience that your presentation will be well worth their time and full attention.
John Cline is the Founder of The Speaking Company. The Speaking Company works with organizations that are frustrated by presentations that waste valuable time and resources. To learn more, visit the company website at www.thespeakingcompany.com, call Cline at (206) 335-3588 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.