It’s 4 p.m. on a mid-July afternoon, and yours is the last presentation of the day. Arrayed in front of you are 215 conference attendees, drowsy from the heat, the droning speakers and a late lunch. Your first assignment, should you accept it: keep them awake, which may seem to be an impossible mission. If they’re too out of it to focus on your presentation, they’ll never get into it. So as you roll into the remarks that you feel are so crucial to convey, consider these six ways to keep your audience attentive—or, at the least, conscious:
- Approach the guilty party. If you spot one or more individuals actually nodding off, and their snoring is competing with your messaging, it’s a simple matter to snap them back to attention without embarrassing them further. Walk at a leisurely rate toward the guilty party while continuing to speak and looking at others in the audience. The change in distance and, as a result, volume, brings the offender to attention nine times out of 10. (The tenth time requires a call to 911). Rinse and repeat as needed with other audience members.
- Present from mid-audience. When lethargy turns contagious and your listeners become increasing idle, transform into Ryan Seacrest. Step away from the lectern or stage and move to the middle of the audience as you speak. Continue your presentation from within the audience, occasionally addressing a point or question to individual audience members.
- Turn the presentation over to the audience. Another way to treat mass lassitude is to be prepared to stop presenting and give control to the audience. Hand out a relevant multiple-choice survey on paper (the process of passing and holding the paper is usually enough in itself
to stir up the rabble). Then ask them to compare their results with those of a neighboring attendee. Ask how many of these couples agreed on the answers to all 10 questions, 9, 8, etc. Then let them talk out their reasoning. If you’re fortunate, by the time they are done they will have completed your presentation for you and your job will be simply to sum it up.
- Perform a group Q&A exercise. Ask your audience to pull out a piece of paper or pull up a clean doc on Word (physical activity) and write the three most important questions that you have failed to answer so far in your presentation. Then conduct a question-and-answer period right there, in the middle of your presentation, finding the right question to launch you into your next presentation segment.
- Hold an instant-win contest. Halfway through your presentation, schedule a quiz to ask questions about points you’ve made so far in your presentation. Toss a conference T-shirt or other non-lethal swag to the first attendee to correctly answer each question.
- Give a rose to the audience member you love most. You don’t have to be the Bachelor(ette) to tell your audience how much you appreciate their attention. Give a valuable prize (e reader, gift card, MP3 player, etc.) to the audience member who asks the most unusual, creative, intelligent or insightful question during the Q&A session. That should keep your audience both awake and thinking, an all-to-infrequent concurrence.
If they snooze, you lose; so while you’re working on your presentation, be sure to work in ways to keep your audience focused, attentive and active.