Imagine, your friend convinced you to attend a presentation that’s an hour long which you were already not interested in. To add salt to your wound it is one of the most boring presentations you have been to, with no visual aids, no lively interactions only the speaker talking in a monotone sounding tired and when you look around the audience is not at all engaged; some yawning, other checking their phones continuously, it even feels boring to imagine it right? Now visualize this being your presentation, turned into a nightmarish situation you never wish to be in pretty quickly.
Boring presentations are quite petrifying especially when they are yours. So why is audience engagement through a long presentation not visible often? How does one detect it? Why is it important to keep your audience engaged? Lastly, how do you ensure audience engagement through long presentations? Each of these questions will be answered in this article.
What is a long presentation?
Presentation is a communication mode which can be addressed to a group in a formal or an informal environment. It helps the speaker to convey a message and often persuades the audience of the speaker’s point of view. Ideally, the average duration of a long presentation should be approximately 20 minutes. However, with a lot of content at hand, it is of utmost importance to keep your audience engaged.
Why is audience engagement through a long presentation not visible often?
There are a lot of reasons as to why the audience gets disengaged. It may be the lack of visual aids or the monotone of the speaker, the time of the day and warmth of the room etc. A rule of thumb states that the speaker needs to engage the audience every 10 minutes as the attention span resets every 10 minutes for most of the audience. It is therefore important to read the room periodically.
How can one detect the audience disengaging?
One can notice the audience getting disengaged through many of the cues that they give off. For instance one of the most oblivious cues is checking their phones occasionally, they may be checking phones to look at the time as to when the presentation would end or find something more interesting to indulge in.
Another is yawning, if one person yawns it is discernible that they might not have gotten a good night’s sleep but if there are multiple people from the audience doing there is definitely something wrong with the presentation (unless you are giving your presentation at midnight!).
Third is eye contact; if the audience is engaged in the presentation they might maintain constant eye contact with the speaker or may also concentrate on the screen but if you watch them not maintaining eye contact with any of the above two mentioned then it’s a sign that they may have possibly gotten distracted.
Lastly, the audience could be distracted due to not being able to catch up with the pace of the speaker. The speaker might have become too fast for the audience to understand and link the concepts and therefore due to missing the parts in between they may easily get disengaged.
Why is it important to keep your audience engaged?
The audience would not be persuaded unless they understand the presenter’s point of view, hence it is important to firstly observe if the audience is engaged or not, failing which would make it difficult for the speaker to retain the persuasive element. Subsequently, audience engagement is essential to help build learning opportunities through information exchange and also helps form new helpful relations between people. Furthermore, audience engagement also builds the speaker’s credibility to a further larger audience in future (through word of mouth many times).
So how does one keep the audience engaged you ask?
- 1. Start Strong
- 2. Breathers
- 3. An interactive space
- 4. Gamification, Experimentation
- 5. Target audience analysis
- 6. Personal Experience
- 7. Analogies
- 8. Body language
- 9. Eye contact
- 10. Visual aids
- 11. The 7*7 rule
- 12. Enthusiasm rubs off
- 13. Observation Skills
- 14.“Change Grabs Attention”
- Below are some videos of speakers with phenomenal presentations:
Well, there are various ways in which one can do this. Here are some listed below:
1. Start Strong
As always mentioned by writers and popular speakers one needs to have an introduction that grabs the attention of the audience, basically an ice breaker that makes the audience comfortable with the presenter. A strong introduction is one-third of the work done and it also establishes credibility. Strong starts always give the audience to get engaged and listen to the remaining presentation and this is especially important when the presentation would be going on for longer durations. Want to give killer openers but don’t know how to make them or use them in your speech we have got you covered, check out this video below on ‘7 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Use them in Your Speech)’ which will give you many examples of the same.
Always remember to take small breaks in between your long presentation; this will not only give you time to cool off but also your audience will get breathing space in between the cognitively taxing presentation, it will clear their mind and give rest to their eyes whilst simultaneously giving them the ability to be well engaged and focus during the presentation. Not to forget that breaks also help the presenter maintain their productivity and reduce their stress.
3. An interactive space
Make your presentations interactive, ask them questions, take their opinions into consideration and make the audience feel included. Most of the audience often gets bored through a standard presentation with the presenter speaking and the audience listening. Audience engagement is bound to decrease a lot using this routine. What to do? Get the audience to stimulate their brains, forcing them to actively take part in the presentation. This also helps them actively imprint the contents of the presentation in their memory. But, make sure that asking questions and making them speak up does not embarrass or make the audience uncomfortable.
4. Gamification, Experimentation
A lot of professors, ted speakers, stand-up comedians, show hosts and even social media influencers use social experiments to grab the attention of the spectators and improve audience engagement. A social experiment can be done before or during the presentation itself. Poll quizzes and gamification are also some other ways in which one can help the audience distract from boredom. Poll quizzes additionally make the audience feel that their opinions matter and make them familiar with people agreeing with them. One can include gamification in their presentation through websites like Genially (with an option for gamification with different themes and teaching how to use them).
5. Target audience analysis
Research your target audience well in advance before your presentation. This gives the presenter the upper hand on ways to engage the audience like topics of interest, jargon etc. For instance, if you have a very young audience make sure to not use complex words. If you have an older audience try to avoid using modern-day internet slang. Conversely, with a youth audience include trending social media topics in presentations (like the Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg feuds regarding Twitter and Threads).
6. Personal Experience
Try to use any shareable personal experiences relating to the topics being presented, If you can think of some. This creates a sense of comfort in the audience. They feel that the speaker has shared or opened up about their personal life. Moreover, it also increases the credibility of the speaker, with the audience feeling that the presenter has gone through the experience themselves and knows what it is like, thus believing more in what the presenter says.
Analogies are a typical comparison between two topics to make the audience understand one topic with the help of another. If you think that the audience would not be able to understand a concept it is wise to explain it through an analogy, however for this too one needs to know the target audience to better tailor it based on their knowledge.
An example of an analogy is how in the American sitcom series ‘Office’, the character Oscar who was an accountant explained the term ‘surplus’ to the regional manager Michael. Analogies are proven to be very helpful while explaining terms and problem-solving. An experiment by Mary Gick and Keith Holyoak showed that similar analogies (as to the solution of the problem) presented to the subjects while performing a problem-solving task resulted in the subjects understanding and solving the problem more than those who were not provided with any analogies.
8. Body language
The presenter’s body language says a lot about the presentation and mirrors the same expressions and feelings of the audience. For instance, if the speaker will look and sound tired and bored so will the audience, the same will happen in the case of tension it will too get mirrored. This is due to the mirror neurons present in the body, the system of mirror neurons enacts or mirrors the same behaviour or reaction that they observe in front (observe that if you come home with a bad mood from work but observe the majority in the house being jovial, your mood changes quickly) therefore it is essential to exude confidence in your tones and body posture and excitement on your face because that is what will make the audience engaged.
9. Eye contact
This is one of the most oblivious, yet one of the most forgotten techniques. Maintaining eye contact is essential to stating to the crowd that you are confident about putting your opinion out to the world. It is also found that maintaining eye contact gives off an impression of being clever as well as an abstract thinker. Furthermore, maintaining eye contact with a person makes them feel important and seen so if you have someone in the crowd on whom you want to make an impact try maintaining strong eye contact (but make sure you perform thorough research on that person before, in some cultures and genders eye contact is found to be hostile and intrusive).
10. Visual aids
The design of the presentation on the screen plays an equally important role in keeping the audience engaged. The slides should be visually appealing to the audience, they should have a consistent colour theme throughout the slide show that reflects the topic of the presentation, that is if you are talking about a serious or formal theme, the theme should not be that of rainbows and unicorns. Moreover, the font size and style should be readable even to those who are sitting at the end, for example, if the font styles contain thin and cursive fonts it would not be legible to everyone. The minimum font size recommended to use during a PowerPoint presentation is 24.
11. The 7*7 rule
This rule states that during a presentation there should be a maximum of 7 bullet points or lines per slide and a maximum of 7 words per line. This makes it easier for the audience to get a gist of the concept explained and quicker to read and understand if they missed hearing an important point that the presenter made. Along with this, it is also important for the presenter to speak at a steady pace and not too quickly or slowly for the audience to either not be able to catch up and lose interest or get bored and have the same consequences. For a practice of a steady pace, Microsoft has a feature called rehearse with the coach.
12. Enthusiasm rubs off
If the speaker explains to the audience why they are so enthusiastic about the topic, their explanation may catch the interest of the audience and the enthusiasm may rub off onto them making the audience more invested in the presentation.
13. Observation Skills
The presenter can also use their observational skills and look for cues and reactions to talk about. This not only makes the audience feel seen but also confirms the mental presence of the speaker. Additionally, making the speaker interact with the audience. This is a skill used by many stand-up comedians to perform observational comedy observing the audience, interacting and making jokes.
14.“Change Grabs Attention”
Lastly, this phrase from Mr Daniel Willingham’s novel is used here to explain that one notices change. For instance, when the fan is switched on or off we can notice the hum it makes, but not in between. This observation is of immense importance when giving a presentation. The presenter can make some noticeable changes in their presentation every 10-15 minutes to avoid the audience from getting disengaged. These could include changing the position of the audience (sitting to standing or changing seats), presenter (from front to back), mode of presentation (from slideshow to video to games) etc.
Some examples of great audience engagement presentations
Now, there are thousands or millions of presentation and speech videos posted every day on YouTube every day but only some stand out and become trending. But why so, what is so good about them? The reason is the speakers or presenters in that know how to capture the audience or the viewers to their benefit. They are not just people with charismatic personalities but they have great presentation skills.
Below are some videos of speakers with phenomenal presentations:
Shah Rukh Khan
First, we have Shahrukh Khan with his remarkable speech at DAIS school. In the video below one can notice how he uses various audience engagement techniques. The actor knows who his target audience is so he builds a speech according to them using some of their jargon, and then he uses humour in between to keep the atmosphere of the room light and keep the teenage audience from getting disengaged. He also occasionally maintains eye contact with confidence in his tone. He further also uses his personal experiences and analogies artfully to put forth his point of view.
Next, let’s look at Tim Urban’s ted talk where he interactively talks about procrastination, using interesting visual aids which does not have any sentences, just a bunch of pictures that are enough to convey the point to the audience. He also uses a lot of humour for audience engagement. Lastly, the most catchy part of the video is his storytelling through personal experiences and how he relates with the audience with his expressions.
Like those above, there is an extensive number of presentations or videos that can teach one power of audience engagement.
To conclude, it is very important to keep your audience engaged even through long presentations to convey your message effectively. We have included almost every point of what, how and why of audience engagement. Do remember to keep these techniques in mind to make your presentation an impactful one.
Feel free to check out our personalised public speaking coaching to improve audience engagement in your presentations!