Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Let's face it...in today's business world, we're constantly listening to presentations, whether they are face to face or via conference call. As I get older, I have a shorter attention span. Perhaps because I have more years behind me than I most likely have ahead of me, I do not like to waste my time.
If I'm giving you my attention, please don't put me to sleep! Here are eight ways to keep me awake during a presentation, or else I'm taking a nap (or hanging up).
1. Modulate your voice.
Monotone voices lull me to slumber. If you have a monotone voice, research how to improve it. Add vocal variety by changing your pitch, volume, tone, and rate. Be enthusiastic and engaging. Smile and show passion in your voice, especially if you're presenting on a conference call.
2. Catch my attention in the beginning.
Tell me a story or an anecdote. Convince me that you're someone worth listening to. Skip the boring introductions, every detail of your resume, and why you're immensely qualified. Question the value of sharing an outline of what you plan to cover, unless it's absolutely necessary. Use my time wisely.
3. Use bullet points only when you need to.
I actually love bullet points in the right place. I use them frequently when I write. But ever since the advent of PowerPoint, many presentations consist of nothing but bullet points. If you must use bullet points, keep them short, limit them to just a few per slide, and use them as a guide for what you want to say.
4. Use the slides for guidance...not as a teleprompter.
What did Steve Jobs know, and what do the best TED speakers practice? They use slides sparingly. That's easier said than done, as most of us are not pros at public speaking. The best rule is: your slides should bring your presentation to life, not be your presentation. There's no better way to bore your listeners. Your audience should be looking at you most of the time, and if you read the slides they will read them along with you. Use your slides as way to enhance your presentation. Use the notes feature to add details you don't want to forget.
5. Don't put too much information on your slides.
Simplify! Use one piece of information per slide. If that means you need to create more slides, do it. Avoid using complicated graphics, especially ones your audience will find difficult to read quickly. Snooze! Graphics should have three to four data points only and be easy to understand.
6. Focus on what's most important.
Less is more. Consider what your audience most needs to know, and discard the rest. Clearly, you know more than you'll be sharing, because you're the expert. But you can open it up to Q&A at the end, and people can ask for more information. Make them want to know more rather than covering every single little thing you have in your brain.
7. Combine data and facts with story.
Your audience probably includes people from a variety of backgrounds--technical,
nontechnical, expressive, analytical, industry insiders, and laypeople. Some people learn best visually, while others learn best orally or through experience. The best presentations appeal to all these types by varying the way the information is presented. As a former English major, I am more likely to remember information if you tell a story to emphasize your point, whereas my engineering colleagues might prefer facts.
8. Don't waste my time.
Always remember: your audience is giving you their time and attention. Don't squander it. I want to come away from a presentation or training feeling I've learned something new or have been enriched or inspired. If I can learn the information more quickly by reading an article, you're wasting my time. If you're just going to read me your slides, you're wasting my time. Make me want to listen to you and learn from you! Convince me that you have something worth my time.