3 Tricks to Get People to Actually Listen to Your Presentations

Make sure your audience doesn't tune out what you have to say.

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By Stacey Hanke

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Few things conjure up a feeling of dread quite like the anticipation of a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. Professionals spend an average of 40 percent of their workday in meetings, many of which include a presenter painfully reading straight from a slide deck. Seventy-one percent of people report that the meetings they attend are a waste of time. Meeting attendees are so accustomed to this monotonous routine that they come armed with an arsenal of more interesting distractions, most likely on their smartphones, such as text messages, social media and emails.

Related: How to Become a Master Speaker and Presenter

Presentations aren't just about sharing data, statistics and facts. They must be passionate, relatable and entertaining. You must influence the audience to act upon what you have to say. Hosting an audience-engaging presentation takes key techniques, discipline and practice. As challenging as it can be, the reward is far greater when audiences walk away remembering and acting upon what you shared.

Here are three techniques for giving an intriguing presentation:

1. Captivate your audience from the start.

The moment you start talking determines your audience's engagement. Attendees have short attention spans and will quickly check out if they aren't captivated from the start. The trick to a captivating presentation occurs in the setup and lies in these three steps:

Skip the introduction and purpose. Everyone already knows why they are at the meeting. There is no need to introduce yourself or give the reason you're there. It's not the first day of school. We all know who we work with and why we are there.

Open with a story. Keep it short; under a minute. Make sure the story ties directly into the meeting topic and has a beginning, a climax and strong ending point. Sharing a story is a great way to immediately engage your audience, helping them relate to the topic in a personal way.

Tease your audience. Don't just tell them what they will learn; hint at how their lives are going to be better after listening to what you have to say. Let them know something impactful will be shared, which encourages them to stay tuned for what's to come.

Related: What You Need to Assess About Your Audience to Make Your Presentation a Hit

2. Stop talking to your slides.

Presenters quickly lose their audience's attention when they fail to recognize when it's time to stop talking. Successful presentations use a variety of mediums to make their point, such as slides, props and audience participation. If you're going to use supporting materials, learn to use them correctly.

People can't read a slide and listen to you at the same time. When using a slide deck, keep it simple. Use brief bullet points and pictures that tell a story, but refrain from making it a novel. Try not to use more than three bullet points or one image at a time. When you forward to a new slide, don't talk. Be quiet and allow the audience to read the data without your interruption. If you advance to a new slide while speaking, they are going to tune you out to take in what they see. Science has proven that the brain is incapable of consciously listening and reading simultaneously, so let them do one without the other. Be quiet long enough for them to read and understand the slide. Then black out the screen before you start talking. This allows you to reengage without competing for their attention, which is easily achieved with handheld slide clickers and shortcut keys.

Don't let props steal the show. Even if you're trying to train your audience on using a gadget, process, system or device, balance prop interaction with your presentation. Allow the audience to interact and process what they see you do without being distracted by your gabbing. Know when to be quiet, and let them process the visual.

Know your timing. Questions and answers have their place, and it's up to you to decide when that best fits into your presentation. Determine ahead of time if you will allow for questions throughout the presentation or if you want to save questions for the end. If you encourage open questions, engage the audience by inviting them to do so during topic transitions. If they ask, don't interrupt them. Allow them to finish their questions before launching into your answer. Connect with their eyes and listen intently. Their question may encourage others to participate, as well.

Related: 7 Storytelling Structures to Improve Your Presentations (Infographic)

3. Create a memorable takeaway.

The takeaway isn't a summary of what was said but instead is critical for the absolute understanding of the topic. Many presenters take this time to conclude their message by recapping what they've said, which invites listeners to check out. If you're going to engage your audience from the beginning to the very end, the takeaway must be strong and purposeful.

Make it a punchline. A joke would lack purpose without the punchline -- the strong point that summarizes the joke's purpose. When you tease an audience at the beginning of the presentation, the takeaway should be the answer -- the punchline -- to the tease. This is a great time to share an impactful data point that benefits your audience, giving them an "a-ha" moment they won't forget.

End with a story. Consider including stories to bookend your message. If you open with a story, don't hesitate to close with one, as well. This story shouldn't present the problem, but instead should highlight how the listener will benefit from acting on what you shared.

When you implement these ideas, you'll influence your listeners to act upon what you said and what they learned. They will leave believing their time was well spent. Listeners will remember what you said, take action and look forward to your future presentations.

Stacey Hanke

CEO of Stacey Hanke Inc.

Stacey Hanke is author of "Influence Redefined…Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday." She is the founder of Stacey Hanke Inc. and has presented to Coca-Cola, FedEx, Nationwide, Fannie Mae and McDonald’s. She has been featured on The New York Times, Forbes and SmartMoney.

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