Have you ever noticed that people’s attention isn’t always focused on you when you are giving a presentation or speaking in meetings? Even if they are looking at you, it doesn’t mean they are still listening.
Being aware of the main reasons people stop listening can help you to counter them and become a far more engaging and dynamic presenter.
The key reasons people stop listening are:
1. The presentation (or a section of it) is too long
Keep things short and punchy. The neuroscientist, Dr John Medina wrote about the ’10 minute rule’ in his book on ‘Brain Rules’ as the optimum time people can listen passively before their attention moves elsewhere. His advice is therefore to keep things in 10-minute chunks before hooking your audience’s attention back with a story, joke or by somehow interrupting the flow of your presentation.
2. A lack of audience participation creates ‘sleep’ mode
A bit like computers, we quickly go into sleep mode if we are inactive for too long. As the presenter, you are very engaged and active – but for your audience, things are very passive and inactive. So you need to keep involving people either through questions and rhetorical questions (similar to a one-to-one conversation) or by actually getting them to do something to engage their energy.
3. Confusion or lack of understanding about what you are saying
If you confuse people and they have no opportunity to clarify what you mean, they will switch off. Therefore, you need to check understanding as you go through – particularly if you are presenting concepts or ideas that are new to people. Do this by checking people understand and encouraging people to ask questions rather than switch off.
4. The presentation meanders or has no structure
Don’t fall into this trap. Have a good introduction, which identifies a benefit to your audience of listening to your talk AND explains what you will cover. Then keep your structure as simple as you can before summarizing what you have covered with a powerful close.
5. The speaker’s voice is monotonous
Get feedback from others if you think this could apply to you. Add drama to your delivery by building in variation in your voice when you rehearse. Think contrasts to enhance your impact: louder/quieter, speed up/pause, high pitch/low pitch.
6. People are not interested in your subject – no clear relevance to the audience
This can be because you have pitched the subject to the wrong audience or you have not made it clear how people will benefit from listening. The first of these can be avoided by doing your research before your presentation to findi out who will be in your audience and what matters to them. The second can be avoided by making clear in your opening remarks and throughout your talk, how your presentation is relevant to their situation.
Using these ideas will help to make your next presentation really engaging – so that everyone is hanging on your words right to the end. Good luck!