Capturing and sustaining audience attention: beyond slide-only delivery


Yes, a lot of people know the phrase ‘death by Powerpoint’ already (and no matter if you use Keynote, problems can be the same). Although it’s a bit unfair to simply blame Powerpoint (or do you think it is the fault of Microsoft’s Word in case you don’t like this text?:-), all of us should take care to use people’s attention span wisely. Powerpoint makes it easy to rely on text heavy slide decks. Presenters which are too lazy to rehearse their presentation find it convenient to have their notes in front of them. At a recent conference I was attending, somebody said, a lot of presentations create the impression of “guided reading”.

Doing a presentation means for a presenter or speaker, facing a couple of challenges. Besides capturing people’s attention, you have to sustain this attention for the entire
presentation and of course every presentation has a purpose, means passing on information and knowledge.

The widely seen corporate and education culture to circulate slides, has led into a situation where slide content is extremely dense to maintain the meaning and the context of the presentation (a hand out would do a better job, but that means more efforts for the presenter, unfortunately…). We know from studies that there is a high risk of overloading the audience (e.g. Sweller) and a bored audience will be the result. Another risk is facing the so-called ‘change blindness’. This refers to the circumstance that audience may not notice visual changes, such as one slide transitioning to the next, if the general layout and appearance of the slide is preserved across the transition.

The common practice to deliver presentations and lectures for durations of up to an hour or even longer, although it’s known that attention span can be as little as 10 minutes, forces a presenter to find engaging ways to keep audience attention. Sustaining attention requires novelty and in environments where slide presentations are the norm, such criteria are extremely difficult to satisfy through Powerpoint alone. By using a Visualizer you become unpredictable and it will be easy to surprise your audience by showing rather than just telling. As Barney Stinson says, ‘If you want to succeed you have to stop being ordinary and be legend – wait for it – dary’.

This will guarantee attention, at least for a while!


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