By the time you take the stage to give a presentation, you’ve put considerable work into researching, designing and practicing it. The last thing you want is to gaze out at your audience only to see the symptoms of distractedness: glazed eyes, surreptitious multitasking and nodding heads, to name a few.
Some experts believe the average adult has an attention span around five minutes—meaning they’ll tune out 84 percent of a 30-minute presentation unless you employ strategies to keep them engaged throughout. Understanding why audiences get distracted during presentations will help you figure out how to craft a presentation that avoids the most common pitfalls. Here are a few key reasons.
Speakers Forget to Set Expectations
If your audience has no idea what to expect, it’s likely your presentation will seem like one unbroken sea of content—and when listeners struggle to see the shore on the other horizon, it makes it easier to zone out. As the speaker, it’s up to you to prime people’s expectations.
For example, let’s say you’re delivering a half-hour presentation for a work conference. When you take the stage, you could inform your audience that you’ll be delivering three 10-minute sections, each with a brief break in between. You could ask people to wait for these breaks to get up and use the restroom or use their phones, eliminating further distractions during the talk. This makes your presentation seem more digestible, so people can aim to tune in for 10 minutes at a time rather than committing themselves to hold still for a daunting 30 minutes.
One-Way Lectures Fail to Engage
We’ve all witnessed at least one presentation in our lives passively, letting the information wash over us until we realize we’ve actually missed most of the meaning in our stupor. This tends to occur when presentations are structured as one-way lectures. What incentive do people have to truly pay attention if they’re simply the recipients of information?
One way to defeat this particular mode of distraction is to get your audience involved. For instance, inserting an online poll encourages people to ask questions or answer survey questions in real time, turning them into active participants rather than passive listeners.
Inserting interactive activities at key points helps your audience refocus while also giving them more stake in the outcome; their questions and answers can influence the discussion moving forward.
Monotonous Delivery Puts People to Sleep
It seems obvious that a monotonous delivery will cause people to tune out even faster. But it can be difficult to tackle your presentation with extreme enthusiasm if you’re presenting rather dry information—like if you’re presenting business data than an emotional personal story.
What can you do to switch up the delivery of your presentation enough to make it riveting for your audience? Here are a few suggestions:
- Supplement your presentation with dynamic visual aids, especially dense data points.
- Include plenty of relevant multimedia ranging from images to video, props and graphs.
- Vary the speed, tone and volume of your voice depending on where you are in your presentation.
- Surprise your audience with an off-kilter transition, joke, anecdote or comparison if appropriate.
- Move around the stage or even the room so you compel more people to follow your voice and figure.
The point is: You don’t want to become a one-trick pony as you deliver your presentation. Rather, you want it to have an arc complete with some peaks and valleys to keep it interesting.
Why do audiences get distracted during presentations? Oftentimes, it’s simply because speakers are monotonous, lecture at their audience or fail to prime the audience on what to expect.