Audiences have no idea what to expect when a speaker first takes the stage. It’s a blank slate. Anything could happen. At this point, people are primed to pay close attention—to assess what the presentation will be like and what value they’ll be able to derive from it.
Right off the bat, viewers are waiting on cues that tell them how exactly to engage with the material you’re presenting. They’ll factor in your body language and delivery, of course. It’s much more compelling to follow along with an energetic speaker. This human connection, or lack thereof, is one of the first things audience members will consider when they’re deciding how to respond to your presentation.
And then there’s the material you’re presenting. Just as important as what is how. Your presentation format itself inevitably affects audience engagement, which is why it’s important to choose the best one to get your point across from the get-go. Here’s how.
Attention: A Valuable Resource
As one Inc. contributor and professional speaker writes, “In today’s noisy marketplace, attention is a prized currency.” Audience attention levels are at their highest when you take the stage. From there, they’ll only wane. While this can feel like a bitter pill to swallow after you’ve worked so hard on your presentation, it’s nothing personal.
Think about all the distractions the average person has to contend with on a daily basis. People today tend to be pulled in many different directions—and this doesn’t end when someone sits down to watch a presentation. For this reason, speakers are always contending with the allure of diversions, especially because most audience members nowadays have mobile devices within arm’s reach.
Choosing the best underlying format for your presentation will at least help you maximize audience attention span. Think of it this way: The message tends to be more powerful when the medium amplifies it. Of course, there’ll still be a limit on how long people are able to give you their undivided attentiveness. But you’ll buy some time and increase the chances your audience will genuinely engage in a meaningful way rather than tuning out.
Know Your Presentation Format Options
To choose the right format, you have to understand your options. Here are four factors to keep in mind when you’re choosing a presentation format, according to Poll Everywhere:
- Desired outcome: What do you want people to take away from the session? Are you aiming to spread knowledge or trying to motivate people to take certain actions?
- Presentation length: How long do you anticipate needing to convey your information? There’s a big difference between 20 minutes and an hour in terms of how you’ll need to hold audience attention.
- Your expertise level: Presenting solo means you need to be an expert. Collaborating with a group brings other perspectives in, sharing the spotlight.
- Size of the audience: Are you presenting for your work team or an entire auditorium of strangers? Certain formats work better for communicating to large groups.
After examining these factors, you may decide that taking the stage alone as a lecturer is the best way to convey your points. This format can pack a punch for a large group, provided you incorporate visual aids and cap your presentation at a reasonable time limit.
You may decide the best way to present certain information is to assemble a group of experts to share the stage. The formal version of this strategy is known as a panel discussion; the more casual version is called a fireside chat. Using a moderator to guide the discussion, your audience will hear from multiple presenters in a single session, which can help them gain lots of perspective.
If you’re presenting for a small group, you may decide to turn it into a collaborative roundtable discussion in which audience members are active participants.
Your presentation’s underlying format will affect audience engagement, so choose carefully based on the aforementioned factors.