Lately, a lot of “think” pieces are citing a stat that the average American’s attention span is down from 12 seconds to eight, which is about the same as a goldfish. Now, that’s something that (ironically) instantly grabs attention because it is so shocking.
It is also, unsurprisingly, not true. The BBC did some research into this figure and discovered that it seems to have been invented on a website that cannot verify any studies or where the information came from. (Yet … does it say something about our attention spans that we would jump on a fact and spread it around so willingly without first stopping to think about how crazy it sounds or double-checking it in any way?)
So, say what you will about those darn kids and their beepy-boopy machines, but that has nothing to do with the attention they will grant you. If your presentation is boring, you’re going to lose your audience. That’s as true today as it was 50 years ago.
Fortunately, there are several tips and tools at your fingertips that can help you grab and keep an audience’s attention.
Turn Bullets into Plowshares
At last year’s developer’s conference, Sundar Pichai, CEO at Google, said that the company was no longer going to utilize bullet points in their presentations.
The reasoning is that bullets require the audience to multitask: to read along while listening to the speaker’s words. Instead, it is better to let your slides work as visuals, emotional cues for the points you are trying to convey.
Instead of bullets, Google execs suggest:
- Using evocative images: It may be a cliched saying at this point, but a picture is worth 1,000 words. Use images with your words to reinforce their impact.
- Being concise: the average slide uses 40 words. Remember, less is more. Use simple, brief phrases, no paragraph-length information, and try to have your slides fall under that … Oh, you’re wondering why this piece is using bullets, aren’t you?
Well, that’s a good point. When you’re writing, bullets can be a powerful tool. They call out essential information and make it stand apart from the rest of the text. A reader’s eyes are naturally drawn to bullets.
Which reinforces why you don’t want to use them in a presentation. You want your audience to listen and pay attention to you — not try to listen to you while they’re trying to read the bullets. Google also suggests:
- Allowing space in your slides: you don’t have to fill every inch of space with content. Leave some white space so the information on the slide stands out and is easy to read.
- Include animation and video: this can give you a mini break as a speaker while continuing to enhance the point you are making.
Point of Power
PowerPoint has become like Coke or Xerox; one of those brands that is synonymous with what it is: presentations. But just like you can drink another soda and call it a Coke or use another type of machine to make a Xerox, you can utilize other software to create presentations.
And there are times you may want to.
One relatively new option is Prezi. This software allows you to lay out your entire presentation on a single “canvas.” You then zoom in and out of your points, instead of flicking to the next slide. It’s a format that can allow you to become much freer with your presentation.
Another option is Apple’s Keynote. It is centered around slides, similar to PowerPoint, but tends to result in presentations that are more dynamic.
Each software has its pluses and minuses. Really, which you choose to use may depend on your audience, but it’s great to have options.
Don’t be a Lecturer, Become a Storyteller
Here’s another reason to keep the slides (or whatever) as minimalist as possible – it frees you up to be a more fluid presenter. Not only will the slides serve as highlights of the presentation for your audience, they basically become flashcards for you.
Now, the idea of going “off book” (or “off slide” in this case) might make you nervous. But that’s ok. It’s much better to look at and connect with your audience – and maybe stumble over a line or two – than to just read from slides.
If you start to think of your presentation as a journey with a start and a finish, it will become easier to picture it as a narrative. When you are conveying a tale, it makes it simpler to connect with your audience while relying less on your slides for prompts.
Technology Can Help You Give the Audience Something New
If you really want to step beyond (or enhance) the PowerPoint, there are several technologies that can radically affect what’s happening on stage.
Gesture control and motion sensor technology can let you control what’s happening in a presentation just by gesturing. For example, with you on the ground, you could be pointing up at the screen moving around letters, adjusting a picture that has become off center, or getting a virtual cat to chase after your movements. If you’re a paint executive, you could add a splash of color to a wall. If you’re speaking at a museum, you could unbox and show off the latest collection.
Another technology actually lets you bring elements from your presentation off of the screen. Projection mapping technology lets you turn any static element on the stage into an animated part of your presentation. Through this tech, your podium could suddenly start speaking to you, you could see through a wall, or the entire back of the stage becomes a lush jungle or parched dessert, a vibrant urban landscape or the lush gardens of Versailles.
If you can dream it up, our techs can make it a reality.
Content is King
Despite all the bells and whistles, though, that old adage still holds true: content is king. It is your message that matters.
Let what you want to convey dictate every other aspect of your presentation: every picture, quote, gesture (if you’re using the gesture tech). And before you do that, you want to ensure that your presentation is as concise as possible.
What that means is that after you have written your presentation, after you have crammed every possible fact, figure, graph, map, pie chart, flow chart, flash animation, Claymation animation, and table of contents into your presentation, it is time to cut at least 20 percent of it out.
I know that sound impossible. But, after you’re finished, put it aside for an hour or so. Then come back with fresh eyes and try to look at the presentation form the audience’s perspective. What is in there that they already know? What is repeated? What may be interesting, but is not necessary to the topic at hand? Where does it go slightly off track?
As you discover the answers to these questions (and others that will come to you), you’ll find that making cuts isn’t so hard after all – even when it’s material that you really like. (Also, don’t delete that stuff. You may find a use for it later.)
Once you find that your content is complete, a zippy and entertaining presentation won’t be far behind. And if you need help bringing your most fanciful ideas to life, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.
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