I was at a conference in San Antonio last year where a woman gave a talk that came off like bragging and name-dropping. She used a corporate slide deck formatted with a large company logo. Her presentation was glossy. It was a sales pitch.
Build for the Attention Dip
The woman who followed her spoke about a captivating idea with great potential for everyone. She opened in an interesting way, she shared some stories, included just enough compelling data, and pulled the idea through it all like a drawstring. She tied it up succinctly. She was genuine–and funny. This speaker knew the timeless wisdom behind building a memorable presentation.
When you stand to begin your presentation, the attention in the room is high—Perhaps as high as it ever will be. Typically, people open a conversation in a lackluster, low-energy way: “I’m very excited to be with you this evening and I’d like to thank blah, blah, blah. Our (company) is the premier blah, blah, blah.”
Almost immediately the audience’s attention begins to slide, and if it slides too far, the attention into what we call “the Valley of Irrelevance.” This is where the devices come out and people behind checking email—or they get up and go to the bar.
So how do you stay out of the dip? First, open by saying something interesting—immediately. This prevents any downturn in attention. The most compelling speakers introduce the topic quickly and explain why it’s important.
Here’s an Example of an Open That Does Just That
Building the Bridge
Once you’ve opened in an interesting way, you have us in your hand. But how do you continue to bridge across the dip and keep the attention level high? You won’t get far if you don’t have a compelling idea to talk about, such as Americans dying from the food they eat. Not all talks will be that dramatic, you get the picture.
Take the advice of Dr. John Medina and balance your factual content with story. Stories engage people. A memorable presentation creates an experience for listeners. Refer to the bridge and you’ll notice it suggests that you organize your content into three focus areas, since the number three has an organizing power in the brain. To hold up these three “pylons,” thread the language of story throughout: metaphors, examples, illustrations, metric analogies, pithy quotes, etc.
At the close of your talk, the attention level in the room peaks again as listeners anticipate a summary or call to action. One of the worst mistakes a presenter can make is to close by saying, “So that’s about it. Any questions?” All the energy drains out of the room and people dive toward the door.
Instead, repeat or rephrase your open, ask a rhetorical question, invite noble thinking that will change the future, make a specific ask. Don’t rush off. Pause for a moment and walk off tall.
The Interact Bridge in Action
Stories provides an experience for those listening. When you tell a story, don’t resolve that story too soon to leverage the curiosity gap. Listeners stay engaged because they sense a surprise is coming. By opening a gap, or hole in the storyline, you’ve invited listeners to lean in closer to learn more. Here’s an abbreviated example of the bridge in action.
Slides or No Slides?
By now you would think that everyone has heard the best advice about PowerPoint: Keep it simple; don’t present us with eye charts; keep it simple; limit the overall number of slides; and don’t use your slides as your notes. Yet oddly enough, we see presenters making the same mistakes over and over.
Many of the most engaging presenters go without slides. But if you have photographs or colorful and simple illustrations that give your message depth, they can enhance your impact.