By the it’s time to deliver a presentation, it’s safe to assume the speaker has already devoted plenty of time, energy and effort. A polished presentationrequires many preliminary stages: Researching, compiling sources, creating the actual presentation, rehearsing and fine-tuning the content, to name a few.
After all this, the idea that the audience might fail to retain most of any given presentation is highly discouraging. So, the question becomes: How can speakers design their presentations to maximize audience retention?
The key is really thinking outside the box to engage your presentation audience.
Back Up Your Words with Visuals
There’s a reason many text-heavy books include an insert in the middle full of photographs—because images bring concepts to life in a different way than words alone. Words and imagery can be highly complementary; they work together to provide a more complete perspective on any given subject.
Plus, there’s the fact that people learn differently. While some people may focus primarily on your words for retention, others will connect more deeply with imagery. Incorporating a healthy dose of photographs, diagrams, video clips and the like helps reinforce concepts for everyone, but especially visual learners.
Gamify Learning and Retention
Delivering a presentation means competing against audience members’ naturally finite attention spans. The last thing you want to do is bombard them with so much straightforward information that it sends them into a stupor. This is when you’ll start to notice the tell-tale signs of checked-out listeners, like fidgeting, staring off into space and perhaps even covert cell phone usage.
Incorporating interactive presentation games can engage and re-engage audience members while also reinforcing key concepts. For instance, who doesn’t love a rousing game of trivia? Using an audience response system, presenters can quiz the audience on multiple-choice questions related to the presentation at hand. Participants can play for points using their mobile devices, giving everyone incentive to listen up and think critically.
Pro tip: Tell your audience at the start you’ll be hosting a “pop quiz” at some point in your presentation. This will motivate them to tune in rather than slipping into passive listenership.
Never underestimate the power of repetition. Remember, presenters have had the luxury of revisiting the information contained within their slides at least several times. Audience members may be hearing it for the very first time. The easiest way to help audience members retain key concepts is simply by repeating them throughout. You can even come up with a catchy slogan or acronym to reinforce the central concept.
Show Progression as You Go
Think of audience attention span as an arc. Toward the beginning, most people are alert and following along. But somewhere near the middle, after seeing a progression of slides, presentations start to seem endless. This sense of mundanity can drive some audience members to disengage, which is ultimately counterproductive for retention.
One helpful thing you can do as a presenter is show progress as you go, or use a tactic to create a sense of time. For instance, you could structure your presentation as a “numbered list or countdown” so listeners know roughly how many slides to expect in total. You could also show a progress bar along with your presentation. Another method is creating some sense of timing verbally (“Stay with me, folks, we have two more slides left to cover.”). Or, you could divide your presentation into shorter blocks of five to 10 minutes each, offering the audience a chance to stretch and reset between each one.
Thinking outside the box will help you engage your presentation audience.