How to say less words. But drive more action.

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
Share this resource:

Recently I was working with an MD who was prepping to present at a business event.
He’s accustomed to doing 30-minute presentations, but this time he’d been asked to speak for an hour. So, he booked a coaching session with me because he felt like he needed more words. But in this situation, you don’t need more talking. You need more doing.
When I ask presenters how long they’ll talk for, people always say something like, “Well, I’ve got 30 minutes, so I’ll talk for 25 minutes then take questions.”
But that’s way too long to talk at people.
There’s a reason TED talks are never longer than 18 minutes. After that, audiences become distracted. My advice is to keep presentations even tighter. Don’t talk to your audience for longer than 10 minutes without changing things up in some way.
Here are three ways to change it up and keep people engaged.
1: Get your audience talking
There are two ways you can do this.
Invite audience questions
You don’t have to wait until the end of your presentation to do a Q&A. Think about how you can open things up for questions at the end of every section of your talk.
Get the audience to speak among themselves
When we present at work, some points benefit from discussion and feedback. But it can be hard to get people to talk frankly in a group situation. Warm your audience up first by inviting them to discuss a topic among themselves.
This requires careful management. You don’t want people to feel they’ve permission to chat about their weekend. That gets out of control fast, and you lose your audience.
Give people a specific topic and tell them exactly what to do. For example, you might say, “Turn to the person to your right and ask them their three main barriers to increasing their customer base over the last 12 months.” Give your audience a few minutes to talk, then invite people to share their conversation with the group.
2: Get your audience doing
If you’re running an educational presentation, break your session up and give your audience a chance to apply the things they’ve learned in a meaningful way.
If you’re demoing a product or service, give people the opportunity to have a play.
Get your audience up doing an activity that relates to the purpose of your presentation.  I’m not a big fan of group activities for entertainment purposes,  But activities that take your audience closer to your goal or offer value – these are gold.

And just because a meeting is virtual, don’t feel you can’t create interaction. Use your breakout rooms to get people talking. People often offer more valuable input in that situation because they feel safer than they do in a group.
3: Change your content up
Now maybe you feel uncomfortable asking your audience to do an activity.
My MD did. He said, “Oh no Jane. I couldn’t do that. ! I’ve been to a lot of these events. They would never ask the audience to do something like that.”
First … if no one is doing something, all the more reason for you to do it.
That’s how you stand out. 
But if you feel incredibly awkward about managing audience interaction, or it really doesn’t fit with the format of your talk, just change your content up.
That could be as simple as showing a video 10 minutes into your talk. Or rather than taking people through some dry facts, tell them a story.

My MD decided to switch things up by playing a funny video related to his message halfway through. The audience enjoyed the change of pace, and he had a breather and a drink of water before tackling his second half.
The key to audience interaction is planning and practice
Know what you’re going to ask people to do, how you’re going to ask them to do it, and how long you’ll let the conversation run. The more you do it, the smoother you’ll get.
And go with the flow when audience engagement doesn’t go according to plan. People would much prefer to be involved in your session, even if it is slightly messy round the edges, rather than sit through a word-perfect 45-minute monologue.
If you struggle to keep your audience’s attention, or you need help getting results with your presentations, I offer one-on-one coaching to make you more confident and effective.

You may also like...

5 June 2024
Three tips to help you fight presentation procrastination and deliver the talk you want to give.
31 January 2024
Are your acronyms working with you or against you? What you think is a time saver, could actually be a barrier to the effectiveness of your message.
15 November 2023
When we learn to stop focusing on what others are thinking of us, we become more comfortable, confident and effective communicators.
Effective Speaking - Presentation Skill Training Course participant speaking confidently at a workshop

Book a Public Training Course Today

Contact us for Group Training

Sign up for presenting tips & resources directly to your inbox

Your privacy is important to us – we only collect your data to use for relevant emails, we won’t share it with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Read our Privacy Policy here.