Even if you have never completely dozed off in a meeting (shoutout to a previous unnamed co-worker who audibly snored through an entire staff meeting), we have all had those moments where it seems nearly impossible to concentrate on a presentation. While it may seem reasonable to fault the distracted audience, the onus is always on the presenter to be engaging--and not waste everyone's time with a boring presentation no one will remember in an hour.
The truth is, employing snooze-worthy presentation tactics are costing you big time, from losing potential long-term business because you poorly communicated your excitement for a new project to missing out on that next brilliant idea by refusing to engage your employees in meaningful team dialogue.
Here are five ways to hack your presentations to get everyone to cut the distractions and actually pay attention.
1. Leave your tech out of the conference room.
Ping! Ping! Sound familiar? I will be the first person to admit that I feel unnaturally incomplete without my phone in my hand, but implementing reasonable rules to put away your phone during meetings is essential to keeping the attention of your audience.
This is much easier to incorporate in smaller teams and there may be times where banishing your phone completely is impossible. I would highly advise against telling a potential client to stop using their device. However, you can always start small--and lead by example. Simply leave your phone in your office and make it a point to thoughtfully engage with others' presentations instead of staring at your tech. This small step can help instill a sense of collaboration in your meetings that can easily snowball into your larger company culture.
2. Downgrade your PowerPoint.
Ready for a truth bomb? It's time to nix the paragraphs from your slides. We've all heard this before, so I'm not sure why people still do it. While having text on a slide is an easy crutch to lean on if you lose your train of thought, reading directly from your PowerPoint presentation will lose your audience instantaneously.
I can't tell you how many times I made this mistake in the first few years of running my company. Now I create short visuals with bright colors and relatable imagery to engage the audience. If I do have text, I limit it to 5 words or less and use big bold fonts to make it easy to convey the topic at hand. While I'm a firm believer in practicing, I never memorize what I'll say word-for-word. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding like a monotonous robot.
3. Talk about yourself--yes, really.
When it comes to presentations, inserting yourself into the conversation is vital to keeping an audience captive. Charts and figures are always going to be essential, but there's a reason why we are seeing a return to oral storytelling like never before. Telling personal, relatable stories is a great way of getting people to engage with and retain key information.
Whether you are looking to break up a data-heavy section of the meeting or simply win back some wandering minds, try sharing a personal connection you've had with the subject matter to keep your audience's attention.
Depending on the demographic I'm speaking to, I like to share funny stories about my family, especially if I know those in the audience are parents themselves. This is always a great way to break the ice and create that personal connection.
4. Get creative and add video elements.
It has been forecasted for years, but the time has finally come: 2020 is officially the comeback year for all things video. But you don't have to save this medium for your social platforms and marketing efforts--adding video to presentations is a great way to capture interest and bring movement to boring decks and presentations.
Start small by experimenting with GIFs in presentation tools like Canva or PowerPoint, or consider searching YouTube for an example of a cool campaign from one of your competitors or a two-minute breakdown of a complicated idea. However you use them, videos can be a great way to break up your presentation into manageable bites (just be mindful to stay away from the cheesy star and spin transitions of yesteryear).
5. Summarize, then do it again, and again.
So you have implemented all of the above tactics to put together an engaging presentation. Even with your best effort, you are going to lose your audience at one point or another.
As attention spans get shorter and shorter, your audience's mind will inevitably wander and information will be missed. Summarizing and providing clear takeaways is key to making your message is received. Don't forget to send a follow-up email, too, with your presentation attached, and underscore those key takeaways in the body of your message.
Some people love speaking in front of a crowd. Others never get used to it. I'm somewhere in the middle. I still get butterflies when I'm about to step out to a crowd of 1,000 people, but I also find so much satisfaction in the experience. Once it's done, it's an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Once you master the best way to relate to your audience and keep them engaged, you'll find the team's morale, performance, and communication will improve all around. So don't take your title for granted; put some thought into your next presentation to reap the rewards.