How to keep people’s attention during a presentation?

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

If we go back to the past, the distant past when people had to hunt for their livelihood and try to imagine the situations in which they potentially found themselves. Alone or in a group in the wild. Stepping lightly, moving quietly, they held their breath. At such a moment, any change in this situation attracts their attention. Whether it was a bird or an animal jumping out of nowhere, some sound or noise — this immediately caught their attention.

And like that for many years, we as humans, have developed an instinct to react and pay attention to everything that changes around us.

Why? Because in the long years of evolution, humans have associated this with potential danger.

Knowing this, can we apply it in our presentations? The answer is: Yes, we can!

Have you ever been in the audience and while the lecturer was talking someone entered the hall or a second person appeared on stage for a moment? Does this catch your attention in the vast majority of cases? The answer is clear. The key to keeping the audience’s attention is to change the dynamics. Something needs to change constantly. In other words, to contrast.

Photo by davisco on Unsplash

If we look for a moment in the movie industry, we have the same element again — the interesting movies for us are those in which there is a constant change of dynamics. There is contrast, there are emotions and there are unexpected twists.

Now how can we use this effect in our presentations and public appearances?

I will start with 6 principles from a wonderful marketing book, Made to Stick, which applies in full force to presentations, so they must appear in our presentation if we want it to really stand out and be memorable.

These 6 principles are as follows:

Surprise element

After extensive research in the field of advertising, the authors have reached these six principles of successful advertising campaigns. And surprisingly or not, each of them is valid in the world of presentations. I have already mentioned to you that another way to call this change of dynamics is CONTRAST.

In our presentations we can contrast on three levels:

• At the level of Presentation
• At the level of Presenter
• At the level of Information

At the presentation level, can we have slides and play a video at some point? We can. Does this give us a change in dynamics and what is our behavior when this happens? The chance to look back at the information presented to us is very high, just because there is a change from slides to video. Another type of contrast we can have at this level is the design. Or these are the fonts, colors, images, and icons used. They must draw the public’s attention to the information that is important to them.

The presenter level is related to the way we communicate and convey our message. We can contrast by changing our body language or changing the position from which we speak. If you look closely at the movement of Steve Jobs on stage, when he introduces the first iPhone, it moves from our left to right, which symbolizes growth, progress, innovation. At the same time, it is a change in his position that engages our eyes. One might say that it is a coincidence or that it does not happen every time the iPhone is mentioned, but know that there is nothing accidental about presentations of such a high level.

Another type of contrast we can have at the presenter level is our voice. The intonation, the power, and the speed with which we speak. The pauses we take. All this changes the dynamics of our presentation. There are lecturers who can only hold our attention for hours with their voices. We call them masters of oratory! The contrasts at the information level are extremely many. If we take Steve Jobs’ presentation again as an example, he starts talking about “smartphones” until now, and then he talks about what they wanted to create. (for the future) (4:28) A little later, he talks again about the problems of old mobile devices and then shows the solutions and innovations in the new iPhone. We constantly have a contrast of past-future, problem-solution; before-now, etc.

Other ways to contrast at the information level are:

  1. Facts-stories — facts activate the logical part of our brain, and stories activate the areas responsible for our emotions. That’s why we happen to experience emotions while watching movies. Sometimes we can cry, get angry, other times we can laugh. It’s all because of the stories. According to a Forbes article, we are 22 times more likely to remember information clothed in history!
  2. We speak as speakers, and then the audience speaks — either these are questions we can ask the audience, or they can ask us. It gives us the necessary dynamics again. We can ask the audience to answer us with a show of hands or with a short answer yes/no, but it is very important not to procrastinate with this because it can provoke negative reactions if there is more.
  3. Show slides, then do a demonstration — Physically standing behind the device from which we present and exiting the presentation software that we use to show a program, code, site, application, etc.

In my experience, it has often happened to me that I do not show the information I want to show in the easiest way for me. Why? Because I’m looking for this contrast effect on purpose. I want there to be a change of dynamics. It’s easier to just take a screenshot and add it to my presentation as an image, but instead, often I prefer to go to the computer, exit PowerPoint, and show my audience live what I want because it engages more their attention!

In the world we live in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold our attention for long. We are constantly connected to the network, something is lit, it makes sounds, friends, colleagues, etc. are looking for us…

The reduced time in which something holds our attention is observed in full force in the world of presentations and public speaking. That is why it is our duty and responsibility, as lecturers, trainers, and speakers at conferences, events, and workshops, is to make sure that we convey the information to our audience in a way that is interesting to them, that we prepare them for a show, a trip that they will remember!

Use the information from this article in your next presentation and I promise you will feel the result immediately!




A non-ordinary woman, working as a Software Developer with a flair for adventures…

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