Practice Makes Perfect
Very few people are natural speakers. Rehearse your presentation until you are completely comfortable with it. If possible do this with an ‘audience’ for honest appraisal and feedback.
For most people a presentation is about as welcome as a bout of gastric flu! The temptation to gallop through as fast as humanly possible may be tempting but, if people can’t follow what you’re saying, all your hard work will be in vain. Slow your speech down; slightly slower than normal conversation is about right. Take pauses, especially before and after a key piece of information is delivered. Oh, and do try to breathe!
Look up as much as possible, sweeping the room with your eyes. If you read your full presentation from your notes your head will be down most of the time and the audience will disengage, so learn your presentation, and use just keynote prompts if you need them.
Be an Agent of Change
People notice change, however slight. Make micro and macro changes in your presentation and you’ll keep an audience’s attention far better. Simple changes like altering your delivery style or making it clear you’re changing topic should occur throughout. Audiences experience a natural dip in attention approximately every ten minutes, so larger changes, such as changing the visual medium or the speaker moving around the room, should be integrated less frequently but are essential.
Be a Storyteller
People are pre-disposed to listening to stories. Have one or two stories prepared, or within the presentation. These will grab attention and hopefully increase engagement especially if it they have some level of humour or self-deprecation.
People like to laugh at others more when they have been granted permission by that person, and especially if they can empathise with the situation.And, be compelling – challenge the audience and make them think. If the thinking is too easy they’ll drift off; too hard and they may shut off.
It’s not appropriate for every situation but, if you really want engagement rather than simply grabbing attention, be prepared to take questions during the presentation. It can affect your presentation length but interaction is better achieved during the talk rather than at the end of it.
Equally, don’t be afraid to park a debate and move on if it will derail the presentation. “That’s a great point you raise there, something which I’d like to discuss in greater detail outside of this presentation.”
Unless you’re delivering a eulogy*, try and look like you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Be confident and perhaps even smile now and then! An audience will take their mood lead from you, and if you believe in what you’re saying, so will they.
*Actually you can and I have, told humorous stories whilst delivering a eulogy; it helps break what is otherwise an extremely tense and sombre atmosphere. Know your audience.