How To Make Your Presentations More Interactive
by Andrea Pacini —
There’s nothing more boring than a one-way lecture which makes an audience feel like they’re being talked at.
Unfortunately, too many business leaders deliver presentations which are more like one-sided lectures. They believe their job is to speak for 30 minutes while others listen.
These kinds of presentations, which don’t consider the needs of the audience, are tedious and unsuccessful.
How do we do things differently? In this article I’ll explore how to bring the audience into your presentations and make them feel involved.
Conversation not presentation
In her book Presenting Virtually, Patti Sanchez says, rather than a presentation being a one-way lecture, it should be a designed conversation.
A presentation should feel like a conversation.
If you can manage to achieve that, your presentations will always be engaging and interactive. If the audience feels like they’re helping to create the presentation with you, they’ll want to listen and will feel more involved.
An audience who sees that you’re considering their needs, questions and priorities will feel more valued.
Have you ever driven your car when you were tired? You probably had that heavy feeling in your eyes and were desperate to close them and get some rest. But you couldn’t.
Let’s say your partner was there with you but they were unable to drive because they’d had a few drinks or they were even more tired than you. So it fell to you to be the nominated driver.
A good partner does everything they can to interact and help to keep you awake. They’ll ask you questions, share anecdotes or select a great playlist on Spotify and sing along.
Well it’s exactly the same in a presentation. A good presenter will do anything to keep the audience awake and engaged.
As Patti Sanchez says, it’s designed conversation, not just conversation. What she means is that the conversational element of a presentation一the moments of interaction with the audience一are not left to chance. They’re planned in advance.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Patti, I interviewed her for our Ideas on Stage Podcast which you can find here.
How often should you interact with your audience?
A professor from Imperial College London decided to apply some science to boring presentations.
Robert Ewers, who attends numerous academic conferences in his role as Professor of Ecology, wanted to establish whether dull presentations are longer or just seem that way.
So he sat through 50 talks, timed them, and made a decision after four minutes whether they were boring or not.
He discovered that the 34 talks he found interesting lasted, on average, 11 minutes and 42 seconds. The 16 boring ones went on for an average of 13 minutes and 12 seconds.
Professor Ewers concluded that the chances of a presentation being boring doubled every 70 seconds.
I like to keep things simple and apply the ten-minute rule.
The attention of your audience will rapidly decline after about ten minutes. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a presenter or how interesting your subject is. Ten minutes are enough for most people. It’s wired into our physiology.
So, what does this mean for you?
If your presentation has to be longer than ten minutes, because you have a certain amount of material to get through, break it down further into ten-minute segments.
In between each ten-minute chunk find a way to maintain the audience’s attention or to win it back.
You need to interact with the audience every ten minutes.
What about online?
It’s even harder to keep an audience engaged online. There are too many distractions for them and you don’t have a direct connection.
In a webinar, for example, some people will have their cameras turned off. Everyone has mastered the art of trying to look as though they’re concentrating while secretly checking their emails, football scores or feeding their dog.
So, the ten-minute rule becomes the three-minute rule online.
In an online presentation, you need to interact with your audience every three minutes or so. In my experience, a moment of interaction every three to five minutes works well.
A real life example
I worked with Nicola Askham, also known as The Data Governance Coach, to develop an online presentation for potential clients.
The subject of her talk was The 6 Principles for Successful Data Governance. It was advice on how organisations can design and implement successful Data Governance frameworks.
We made sure we had a moment of interaction for each of her key messages. I’ve summarised them below so you can see how we broke it down.
Nicola designed these moments of interaction in advance. She knew she had to ask those questions. Even when she rehearsed her presentation, she rehearsed the interactions as well.
As you can see, it doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as you involve the audience in the conversation, they’ll appreciate it.
Too many business leaders fail to interact with the audience. We all know what it feels like to be spoken to without any participation. It’s boring.
The best presentations feel more like conversations.
Rather than leave moments of interaction down to chance, prepare them in advance. Create a designed conversation for your audience.
People’s attention spans last about ten minutes. So incorporate moments of interaction every ten minutes or so.
Online it’s even more difficult to keep people engaged, so bring that down to every three or five minutes.
The best way to plan moments of interaction is to look at what your key messages are, and align them to those.
If this article has helped you please get in touch to let me know. If you feel any colleagues or friends might also benefit from reading it, feel free to share it.
If you want to improve your presentation skills further try out the Confident Presenter Scorecard.
After answering a series of simple yes/no questions you’ll get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of our best-selling book Business Presentation Revolution.
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash