"Fortune" magazine reported in 2013 that the average adult attention span is just 5 minutes. Think about that when you're putting together a 60-minute presentation for a group of investors, your boss or your colleagues. A PowerPoint presentation with diverse fonts and multiple transitions may not keep everyone engaged and interested. Go beyond those standards by thinking about what your audience needs and wants to learn.
What's Your Goal?
Determine what your audience wants to get out of your presentation. Figure out the questions they want answered or the facts they want to learn, then tailor your entire presentation toward that. In his "Think Outside the Slide" training, business presentation expert Dave Paradi advises presenters to write out a plan on paper first. Draw up an outline that hits the main points or use a sticky-note format. If your goal is to sell a product, educate the audience about why they need it. You might define the need for the product, say why the product works, then compare the product to others and explain how the audience can get it.
Grab the Audience's Attention
Capture the audience's attention right away by saying something that will stick with them throughout the presentation. Start with a thought-provoking quote and a photo, a quirky video or some other "teaser," suggests Pinnacle Performance company co-founder G. Riley Mills in "Training" magazine. You might open the session with a question that you will answer later in the presentation or by stating an intriguing fact related to your topic. If your presentation is related to home organization, for example, show "before and after" photos of a room transformation, or repeat a famous quote about organization and how it relates to productivity.
For each piece of information you provide, find an accompanying visual aid. Avoid putting a lot of text on the screen, and include photos that enhance the meaning of the material, suggests the presentation team at TED. In one TED presentation, for example, a company displayed a striking image of a ship that was about to sink to demonstrate the need to prepare for failure. Create and display charts or graphs, which are fairly simple to do using standard presentation formats such as PowerPoint and Keynote.
Break Up the Monotony
To keep audiences engaged and thinking, use what Mills calls the "pattern interrupt." Switch from one type of audience engagement to another. Present your visuals for a while, then ask audience members for comments or break them into smaller groups. Changing speakers can also liven up the scene, suggests Mills. To encourage participation, ask a member of the audience share their thoughts. If you give similar presentations on a regular basis, poll your audience for suggestions to make them even more interesting.
- Think Outside the Slide: Five Tips to Make PowerPoint Business Presentations More Effective
- Training: 7 Secrets to Engaging an Audience
- TEDBlog: 10 Tips on How to Make Slides that Communicate Your Idea, from TED’s In-House Expert
- Indiana University: Indiana University Teaching Handbook: Lecturing
- Fortune: Giving a speech? Conquer the five-minute attention span
- Photo Credit pojoslaw/iStock/Getty Images