I have presented in front of peers, customers, investors, small audiences, and large, and there is one thing in common with every group I’ve ever spoken to: people get bored quickly. We can’t all be Hans Rosling (http://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling) but there are some things you can do to be a better speaker and presenter.
People get bored quickly
First, know your subject. This may be obvious, but no one wants to listen to someone who isn’t confident of the technical aspects of the information they are presenting. Even less so if they are paying to listen. If you’re presenting on how to be an expert coupon shopper, you don’t need to be an economist, but you should come prepared with some numbers that show potential savings, alternatives, and an overview of the history of coupons.
Second, don’t just read what’s on your slides or other visual material. If you’re just reading it, then you serve no purpose; I can read it myself. Put some of the information on your slide, but add to it with your voice.
Third, don’t leave out important information from your slides in case you’re not there in person. This is the flip-side to #2. Sometimes, you’re sending slides to someone electronically for further review or so they can forward them to a manager. In this case, your slides need to speak on their own without having your voice there to add information, so it’s important to capture the essence of what you are trying to say without being there to say it.
Fourth, be entertaining. People get bored. The average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2010 to 8.25 seconds in 2015 (http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics). The attention span of a goldfish has remained constant at 9 seconds. If you are expecting people to experience your visual input (your slides, handouts, etc) at the same time as you are talking, they can really only pay attention to one or the other. So use graphs and charts instead of numbers; use pictures instead of words; use animations to show changes rather than multiple pages. Most importantly, be engaging.
If your audience is live Tweeting your talk from their phones, that’s great. If they’re just looking at emails and surfing the web, that’s bad. Use your hands, walk around, be entertaining, engaging, and educating. People are more likely to pay attention to something that is unusual and not like all the other talks, so maybe bring props, demos, or prototypes if you can.
Lastly, speak slower than you think you need to but always be aware of the time. It’s better to end five minutes early than five minutes late.