Five Ways to Conquer the Five Minute Attention Span

April 24, 2015
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ID-10046949The sheer preparation for a speech is stressful, let alone considering how to maintain the audience’s attention for the entire presentation. Millions of people fear public speaking more than anything else. Many cite the audience as the greatest source of angst—will they pay attention? Laugh if a mistake is made?

A recent Fortune article reveals the shocking results of a study commissioned by British bank Lloyds TSB—the average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now. This means that 84% of your 30 minute presentation will be tuned out unless you conquer the five minute attention span. Fret not; here is how:

  1. Punch your audience. The opening of your presentation is extremely important because it is during those few seconds that the audience votes—are they going to actively listen or tune out? Grab their attention by opening with a punch. State a relevant, shocking statistic; a personal experience that makes a business point; or a quote by a famous person that will pique interest. The goal of the opening is to grab the audience’s attention in order to engage them.
  1. Pitch Powerpoint. Speakers count on PowerPoint’s familiarity and ease of use, however audiences have seen this format far too many times. Sean O’Brien, EVP of Atlanta-based online meeting and collaboration firm PGi, agrees having stated in the article, “… The audience has seen the same format 1,000 times, so they turn into zombies.” Instead, try Prezi, Easel.y, or SlideRocket which are also easy to use, but better than PowerPoint because they can make more of a visual impact.
  1. Remember, ‘Less is MORE.’ Make your slides pop by using intriguing visuals and concise language. Streamline your slides. O’Brien recommends no more than five to 10 slides for a 30-minute presentation stating, “If you have a slide deck with 30 slides in it, your presentation is doomed…You also need to have each slide make just one main point of 15 words or fewer.” Too much talking and your audience will tune you out, so get to the point quickly.
  1. Engage the audience. Dale Carnegie’s 3rd Human Relations principle is, ‘Arouse in the person an eager want.’ Imploring your audience to want to listen can be accomplished in a variety of ways for maximum engagement. Try asking questions such as “By a show of hands, how many of you have encountered any of these process challenges in the last month?” Altering your position on the stage every few minutes instead of pacing and asking volunteers to come up on stage to demonstrate something will maximize the audience’s level of engagement. 
  1. Pepper in your personality. Everyone’s unique traits should be woven into the presentation to maintain the audience’s interest. O’Brien stated, “You’ll be much more engaging and memorable if you…talk a bit about yourself and reveal a little of who you are outside the office.” Whether you are quirky, energetic, excited, etc., allow those traits to shine through!

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of North Dakota, providers of professional development and management development courses and information in North Dakota. We would love to connect with you on Facebook.

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