Get Your Audience to Pay Attention

If you’ve presented enough times, like I have, you will know that sinking feeling as you look out and realize that you’ve lost their attention. Keeping the attention of your audience is critical to getting the message across.

So, here are my 5 tips to keeping the attention of your audience.

1. POP them. You have about one minute at the very beginning, to pop your audience. Change their mindset, shock them, scare them, challenge them, make them squirm or give goosebumps. Your sole objective for the first one minute is to get them to think “Wow, this should be good!”.

Take a pass on expanding on your introduction or talking about yourself or going over any logistics. Start with a bang and get going. If I want to fill in any administrative details or some introductory talk about me, the topic or whatever, I will most often do it 5-10 minutes into my presentation. Hopefully, by then, you’ve got their attention and they’re really looking forward to the rest of it. Take a brief minute or two after the POP now to get over the boring stuff.

2. Tell them why. Within the next few minutes you should be making it very clear to everyone in the room why you are there, why they are there and critically, why this session is important to them. 

3. Changeup every 12 to 15 minutes. If you are talking straight on for more than 15 minutes, you risk losing them. Today’s adults of all ages need a changeup frequently, in a presentation of one hour or more. This could be an exercise, a new section to your presentation, a video or audience participation or interaction. This keeps them engaged, on the ball and interested.

4. Reinforce the ‘Why’ every 5 to 10 minutes. This took me quite a while to figure out. Item 2 above is important as you establish the ‘Why’ right up front. But to keep your audience paying attention you need to frequently refer to the ‘Why’, and how it relates to the audience. Once I start to hear myself use the word ‘why’ frequently in my presentations I feel better about what I am saying and much more confident about what I am delivering.

5. Continuously refer to their lives going forward. Connect your content regularly throughout the presentation to its application tomorrow or next week or next month. Making this connection on a regular basis helps your audience to stay tuned-in and thinking about the real purpose of the message.

I sat in on a Hugh Culver session at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers in Vancouver, BC a number of years ago and I heard him say that as a presenter in any environment, our job is to inform, exchange, inspire and back it all up with action.

Whether you are a junior project manager, a senior corporate leader or a professional speaker, the rules are the same. You will always run the risk of losing your audience if you don’t pay attention to these rules.

Pop them, tell them why, changeup, reinforce the why, and connect to an action plan.


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