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12 Proven Strategies to Make Your Presentations More Captivating

Ben Parr

By Ben Parr

(Inc.) – Here are some proven tips to make your next speech more attention-grabbing.

Most people miss the mark when it comes to public speaking and presenting. They meander through a word soup PowerPoint in monotone, complete with hundreds of ums and shifty glances. And many times, people don’t even know they are making these types of correctible mistakes.

Public speaking is an incredibly difficult art to master, but there are plenty of ways to improve your presentation form tremendously. During my two years of research for my book Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, I uncovered countless techniques for making speeches more interesting and captivating. For this article, I’ve collected 12 of my top pieces of advice for anybody who wants to improve their public speaking, whether it’s for a room of five or 5,000. Each of these tips are simple to implement but proven to increase your audience’s attention on you and your message.

Here are 12 strategies you need to know before you deliver your next presentation:

1. Check Your Ego at the Door: My friend Dr. Carmen Simon, a speaking coach and founder of Rexi Media, emphasizes to her clients how quickly audiences are able to pick up on egotistical speakers. Audiences do not come to see a presenter brag about his or her accomplishments — they come to learn something new. Focus your talks on lessons your audience can take away and check your ego at the door.

2. Present When You Audience Isn’t Tired. Did you know a judge is far more likely to give you a favorable sentence at the beginning of the day than at the end? This is due to decision fatigue and directed attention fatigue, both of which affect our ability to pay attention, concentrate and consume new information. Your audience will be more receptive to your message early in the day or right after a lunch break.

3. Violate and Surprise Your Audience’s Expectations Early: Recently, I’ve been surprising my audiences with handheld confetti cannons. Why? Because the science shows that we automatically pay attention to things that violate our expectations of the world.

When your audience can predict what you will say or do next, their attention will begin to wander. So put in something unique or surprising to throw your audience off. Captivate your audience by making them expect the unexpected.

4. Take Out ALL Your Bullet Points. You want your audience to focus on only one thing: you. The science shows that we are terrible at concentrating on two things at once. If you have a slide with five or seven bullet points, you have already divided your audience’s attention between reading and listening.

Think of your PowerPoint or Keynote as supplementary material to emphasize your points. Use your slides for imagery, charts, graphs and videos. Just don’t literally spell out your talking points.

5. Emotional Stories Trump Statistics. We can’t empathize with statistics, but we can empathize for individuals and their plights. That’s why emotional appeals always tell a better story than statistics can. The Rokia effect shows that, when you’re trying to convince others to take action, EQ is far more effective than IQ.

6. Record Your Presentations and Watch Them. Most people aren’t even aware of their speaking flaws until they have a chance to watch the tape. It can be difficult to watch yourself speak and stumble, but if you want to drastically improve your presentation technique, you need to watch yourself give a talk and take notes. Where are you dynamic and where are you monotone? When does the audience engage, and when does the audience stay silent? Recording and watching your presentations will help you do everything from acquire more laughs to reduce your verbal garbage. Speaking of which…

7. Count Your “Ums”. When your audience starts playing the “Count Your Ums” game, you’ve already lost. These nervous ticks are the crutches many novice speakers use while they’re thinking of what to say next — “umm”, “err”, “ah”, “like”, etc. — but they distract your audience and hurt your credibility. Practice using silence instead of filling the void with useless words.

Next time you give a talk, make sure it’s recorded so you can go through the painful process of counting your ums. The more you count them, the more you practice removing them, the fewer you will use.

8. Drop the Excuses. Novice speakers like to use cruxes such as “Sorry, I’m nervous!” or “I didn’t get a lot of sleep yesterday.” Stop it! These types of statements create a frame of reference that makes your audience perceive you, the speaker, as less authoritative. You don’t want that! Practice and avoid saying these types of statements during your talks.

9. Repeat Your Key Points. If you have to remember a phone number, but forget your phone and don’t have paper, how do you keep it in your brain? By repeating it in your head. Working memory — the short-term memory system that controls attention — remembers auditory information through the repetition of the phonological loop. Repeating your key points increase the chance your audience will remember them weeks and months later. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Interact with and Validate Your Audience. A good presentation is a performance; a great presentation is a conversation. Don’t be afraid to build interaction with your audience. Throw in a simple quiz; have someone come on stage to help demonstrate an idea; and most of all, ask your audience questions.

11. NEVER Use Stock Photography. Nothing kills a presentation faster than stock photography. They aren’t authentic, entertaining, or funny. And they certainly aren’t new to your audience. Avoid using stock photography at all costs. I suggest utilizing Compfight and searching for images under Creative Commons — these images are always more fascinating and real. And if, for some reason, you HAVE to use a stock photo, Dr. Carmen Simon suggests zooming in on a piece the photo to make it different than the standard stock image.

12. Practice, Practice, Practice. This may be an obvious piece of advice, but it’s so important to public speaking that it deserves repeating. Practicing calms nerves and assures you won’t default to ums and ahs on stage. Find a friend, find a mirror, and get to work!

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