If you’re worried about your audience paying attention to your presentation, you should be. A study from Microsoft found that people have an attention span of eight seconds on average. That’s worse than a goldfish.
The upshot: Your presentation must grab your audience’s attention from the very first slide. Here are four ways to do that.
1. Open with a bang
If you want to get your audience engaged quickly, you need to do something to grab their attention. Instead of letting your presentation develop slowly, start with a bold moment they can’t miss. Use an arresting image, an unexpected statement, or an emotional video clip, to get them focused on you from the start.
2. Tell a story
Storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with an audience. Stories make a subject feel more interesting and personal, no matter what the topic is. Try opening with a story that connects to the purpose of your presentation before you dive into more substantial material. You might want to watch a few TED Talks for examples or inspiration; TED speakers use this strategy often, and to great success.
3. Ask a question
Opening a presentation with a question is a great way to wake an audience up. It forces them to start thinking more deeply about your topic before you delve into the details. By actively participating in the presentation, people are more likely to feel connected to your content and to you as a speaker.
4. Quote someone compelling
Start with a strong quote — ideally from a well-known or well-respected person — that alludes to the core message in your presentation. For example, we recently worked on a keynote address that opened with this quote from David Ogilvy: “A brand is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” This set the stage for the speech, which focused on how a company’s product is their brand. Adding an image of the person you’re quoting is also a nice way to bring your message to life.
5. Use visuals that trigger emotion
Show your audience something that makes them feel something. This might be an awe-inspiring photo of a person climbing Mount Everest. It might be a chart that shows the global rise of obesity rates. It might be a video of puppies playing with babies. You get the idea.
Mostly importantly, choose a strategy that will set the right tone for your presentation. It can make all the difference in how your audience feels by the time your talk comes to an end.
Your approach depends on your audience
Most importantly, choose a strategy that will set the right tone for your presentation and the audience. What works for a room full of engineers might fall flat in front of the Board of Directors.
By choosing powerful moments to hook your audience into your presentation, you don’t just ensure that more of your message gets through, you also prime them to be on board with your conclusion from the start.
And it can make all the difference in how your audience feels by the time your talk comes to an end.
Update (02/24): we’ve revised this article to add some new ways to engage your audience
Looking for more information about presentations and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.
About the author
Kyle Kartz is the Creative Director of Storytelling at VerdanaBold. He is an expert copywriter and strategist, with experience driving major campaigns for global brands in multiple industries. He is passionate about communications, the outdoors, and cooking.