6 audience engagement tips for your next presentation

Picture this. Your microphone pack is switched on. You’re standing offstage, waiting to give your presentation. The adrenaline kicks in just as the hum of the audience reaches your ears.

And now, the questions begin. How do you keep them for glancing down at their phones, anxious to check their email and messages? There are at least five ways an audience member can get distracted without even realizing it: a notification. A neighbor deciding to leave early. The room, if it’s a bit too hot or a tad too cold. They can’t see the screen. Three nearby conversations make it hard to hear.

Every presenter faces these challenges. Luckily, they’re easily overcome. I’m here to provide a few tested best practices and tips for hosting a fantastic and engaged presentation.

The expertise gauge

You may not always know who your audience is, or where their knowledge lies for the topic you’ll be discussing. I recommend asking a baseline question at the beginning of your presentation, and again at the very end. The first sets the tone. The last provides invaluable insights.

The first question is a guide to how much emphasis to put on certain takeaways of your topic. Make sure to frame the question in a way that won’t discredit your expertise. Repeat the question at the end of your presentation. This time, responses will indicate how well your content was received by the audience compared to where you began.

Change is good

A surefire way to keep people’s eyes and attention on your presentation is to mix up the format. Change your slide type every three slides or every three minutes, whichever comes first. Several slides of text will all start to blur together in the audience’s memory, as will several images of photos or charts.

Doing so will create a sense of urgency. The audience will constantly try to anticipate the next slide. To keep that momentum don’t linger on slides too long. You can always come back to that point in a later slide.

Less is more

No one comes to your presentation to read a bunch of text. Sometimes a simple photo is all you need to get your point across. Powerful images — or equally powerful presentation backgrounds — create a super-powered presentation. For example, fifty slides in a thirty minute presentation forces the audience to focus on reading the text rather than listening to you. Your slides should support you, not overshadow you.

Challenge their norm

A recent best practice I’ve adopted is to challenge the audience’s expectation on the selected topic. This can be done in a few different ways: Ask the audience about a hotly-debated topic, such as, ‘Who owns lead conversion goals: sales or marketing?’ Then, dive into why you have the position you do on.

Another way is to do to tell them at the beginning that there is a problem to be solved, then present the solution. This should be approached with tact, sealing the urgency and focusing on the solution you give to the problem or position.

Repetition, repetition, recap

Want people to remember your content? Cover your big takeaway at the start, middle, and again at the end. Have several takeaways? Cover them in a recap slide at the end of your presentation. This helps cut down on your slide count, and how much text you’ll have throughout.

Let the audience know upfront that you’ll be recapping, so they can focus on you instead of taking photos of your slides. They’ll photograph the recap slide and save it for later. This would also be a good time to pose a Q&A, or to ask which takeaway they find most valuable or are excited to try.

Audience attention is a fickle thing, but with the right strategy, you can keep the focus squarely on your content. See something you’re dying to try, or have a favorite but don’t see it listed above? Share your expertise on Twitter @polleverywhere.