Keeping Your Audience’s Attention

Do you enjoy public speaking? Most people don’t, unless they do it for a living of course! Love it or hate it, at some point in your career you will most likely have to address a large group. Many think that the worst part of public speaking is the opening—breaking the ice and getting the attention of the group. Although this can be nerve-racking, the hard part isn’t getting their attention, but keeping it.

Studies show that on average, humans can focus solely on one thing for about 20 minutes. If you have a presentation that is short and sweet, you won’t find it difficult to keep your audience’s attention. But what if you have a long presentation? Or one that is on a boring topic? Maybe you are speaking at a three-day conference, and your session is the very last one. These factors will make it harder to keep your listeners excited and interested. But don’t worry; we’ve put together some tips from professional speakers to help you make it through your next presentation with ease. Read more below!

1. Tell them why they should listen

Your audience doesn’t want to walk away with nothing after your presentation. If you promise them something of value, you have a better chance of keeping their attention. In your introduction, tell your audience not only what you are going to be speaking about, but why they need to listen. For example: “Today I will be speaking to you about evacuation procedures. We all know that the chances of a fire are slim, but did you know that in the event of a fire, the difference between life and death is 20 seconds? After this presentation you’ll know how to make the most of that time and get out alive.”

2. Mix up your media

There is nothing worse than a speaker who simply gets up and reads through a bunch of slides with bullet points. Explore other programs and technologies that will motivate your audience to listen. Project a video from YouTube, use interactive polls to get your audience involved or try out Prezi—a software tool that allows you to present text, graphics and videos on a “whiteboard”. The zoom and pan technology is much more interesting than a PowerPoint.

3. Move it!

Get out from behind the podium and walk around. Your audience will be more alert as they follow you around the stage. For even better results, walk around the audience while you ask questions or get their opinions. Just make sure you organize to have a cordless microphone beforehand.

4. Tell personal stories

Tell stories about yourself or people you know to add some flavor to your presentation. Humans are hard-wired to respond better to information presented in a story format, so take advantage and keep them engaged with short anecdotes.

5. Change it up

Change is what we respond to, so fill your presentation with small and large changes to keep your audience on their toes. Expert Olivia Mitchell suggests the following ways to add change to your presentation:

  • Change from slides to a projector
  • Change topics
  • Change your volume —speak louder for important points, and use well-placed silences when you want your audience to think
  • Change your audience’s physical state —from sitting to standing, for example
  • Change your location. Move from the front of the room to the side or back.

These are just a few ways to keep your audience interested. Let us know if you have any useful tips for public speaking in the comment section below.

Target Language

“Thanks for joining me today.”

“How many people have been to a presentation on this subject before?”

“Can I get a show of hands?”

“Use the handset in front of you to join in our interactive polls during this presentation.”

“I’m just going to move from the PowerPoint to this flipchart for a minute.”

“I found a great video on YouTube that shows exactly what I mean.”

“Let’s move on to the next topic which is…”

“I’ve brought my good friend-and an expert in the subject-here today to tell you more.”

“I’m going to come into the audience now and get your thoughts on this. Please raise your hand and I’ll bring the mic to you.”

 “Like many of you, I thought presentations on health and safety were boring and didn’t apply to me. Then, I found myself in a scary situation. Here’s what happened…”