How to engage your audience during a presentation

Engaging your audience is the most important thing when giving a presentation. My friend Tim Riesterer at Corporate Visions always reminds me, “There are two moments when your audience is most engaged and retains information. When you start speaking and then again when you tell everyone that you are about to wrap up. Research shows listeners lose interest in the middle of the presentation.”What are some ways to connect?

Using slang. The dog days of summer are nearly behind us. A couple of meetings in Phoenix this past week when the mercury topped 116 degrees reminded me of that saying. Using an expression like “dog days” is okay for a blog, but is it okay for a business presentation?

I say yes, as long as you know your audience and are careful not to use sayings that would offend. However, you have to be genuine, connect and keep your audience interested throughout the presentation.

Physical stunts. When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give a “Last Lecture” as many professors do, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment. As engaging as this presentation was, Randy did things to ensure he spiked interest throughout, like the one-handed pushups in the middle of the speech.

Laugh at yourself. Few expressions can also help spike interest even if you use them wrong, as I was reminded at my Phoenix meeting. I was talking with a sales team about their customer’s procurement process and the need for their clients to have two or more suppliers. I said, “They don’t want to have all their ducks in a basket.” Now this was a mix of “ducks in a row” and the actual saying I intended on using, “Eggs in a basket.”

The heckler in the audience picked up on it immediately, corrected me and also agreed they probably didn’t want “ducks in a basket either.” Everyone laughed and we had a spike in audience engagement. Did I feel embarrassed? No, I was genuine, made a mistake, and was able to laugh at myself. More importantly, I had reconnected with my listeners.

Whether it’s a one-handed push up, an expression, or a completely jumbled phrase, be genuine with your audience and find moments to spike interest throughout your presentations.

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photo by Katrina Snaps

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