Distractions are everywhere – billboards, advertisements, pop-up ads, posters and, of course, that gadget that over 60% of the world’s population owns. We live in an attention-hungry world, yet we only have so much attention to share, writes Hanieh Vidmar.
When you’re on the stage, it’s no different. From before you get on the stage to a short while after, you’re relying on the attention of every single person in your audience. You need their attention to make an impact and their attention should be on you but, more importantly, on your presentation and its content.
The average attention span has now fallen due to the rise of mobile phones, according to research. How easy it is for someone in your audience to switch off on you and grab their phone, start scrolling and texting? Too easy.
In this article, I’ll be sharing seven of the most common distractions in presentations and how, as speakers, we need to avoid them. By knowing what they are, we can eliminate them from our presentations to ensure we have as much attention on us as possible so we can make the impact we want.
What you wear is a huge part of your presentation
Two of the first things we think when we have a presentation coming up is “what should I talk about?” and “what should I wear?”. You need to look smart yet ‘simple’ so avoid wearing loud clothes or loud jewellery. It’s irritating when a speaker has on over 30 bangles that jangle all the way through.
The audience need to hear the speaker clearly and any additional noises are an unwelcome distraction. Avoid bright stripes, heavy patterns, silly slogans or bright colours. Being yourself on stage is very important but you can be yourself minus unnecessary distractions.
Communicating with arms and hands are natural for humans
According to former FBI agent and non-verbal communications expert Joe Navarro, gestures are a good thing. He says: “research tells us liars tend to gesture less, touch less and move their arms and legs less than honest people”.
But too much gesturing is a major distraction. Ask someone next to you to stand up and talk and to constantly use their hands and arms for … every … single … word. It’s quite irritating and, frankly, a major distraction. Your audience will focus more on your gestures than on what you’re saying. If you are someone who uses gesturing a lot try to control it.
Visual aids are useful in presentations – so where possible use a slide deck
However, what you put on the slides and how you use them is very important. The most effective ways to use slides are minimal colours, minimal words and content. If you crowd your slides with chunks of text and images and messy layout your audience won’t read them. And it’s worse if you read the text to them.
Have one or two words or one sentence on a slide and face and talk to and engage with your audience. This way is far more effective in delivering your message, making an impact and of course, maintaining attention.
There are some distractions that we can’t control…and tech failure is one of them
It can happen at any time to anyone so there is no need to feel uncomfortable about them – it’s how you deal with it that’s important. If something stops working, ask for help openly and immediately. Put a plan B in place just in case something does go wrong and know your presentation well enough so if you don’t have access to your slide deck, the show can still go on.
Spending time fixing an issue whilst the audience are sitting there (im)patiently is an unnecessary distraction. Offer a break or ask for help but keep things moving.
Avoid using jargon, complex descriptions and acronyms
Keep your presentation simple and easy to understand. This doesn’t mean you’re patronising your audience; it means you’re delivering your message in a clear, concise and straight-to-the-point manner. Your audience will (hopefully) stop you and ask you to clarify further if you use jargon and complex descriptions.
However, this is an interruption and the time is best spent delivering valuable information. Deliver a clear, well-structured presentation as this allows your presentation to flow smoother and more effectively.
Make sure your handouts are received
If you have a handout that supports your presentation, hand them out before your presentation begins, during a break or as people leave. If you absolutely must hand them out as you speak, then put aside 2-3 minutes for this.
Don’t speak to the audience whilst the documents are being handed out – they may not listen to you as everyone will be focused on when they’ll receive their document and there’ll be a lot of shuffling.
You could ask your audience if they’d like a copy of your slides or further information and if so, hand them a form to fill in at the end or ask them to email you. This way you could maintain a relationship with your audience once the presentation has ended and add them to your mailing list (with permission of course).
Be upfront about what’s allowed and what’s not
If you want phones on silent or switched off (and I’m sure you do), then ask! If you’d rather people didn’t film your presentation, ask. If you want to save questions for the end of your presentation, say so. Set the rules and requests at the beginning of your presentation and this way, it’s less likely that someone will do what you don’t want and disrupt your presentation.
Distractions can occur at any time – late arrivers, someone forgets to switch their phone off, people speaking loudly outside, builders working – the list is endless.
Before your presentation, make a list of all the things that could potentially go wrong and have a plan B in case they do. Put a stop to the controllable distractions before you get on the stage so that your presentation has a higher chance of running smoothly which is what both you and your audience want.
Download Hanieh’s free article “How to Design a Presentation in 60 Minutes or Less”
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