Tips To Keep Your PowerPoint Audience

16 Jan 2020 | 02.42 pm

Tips To Keep Your PowerPoint Audience

How to stop audience falling asleep

16 Jan 2020 | 02.42 pm

With somewhat of a reputation for putting viewers to sleep, Microsoft’s  PowerPoint has a hill to climb, but organisational psychologist Susie Phillips-Baker says the difficulties can be overcome by following a few simple rules.

Phillips-Baker recently joined Future Present, an agency that works on thousands of PowerPoint slides a year including investment decks, sales pitches and TED Talks.

The company’s research shows that 58% of office workers admitted that they have almost fallen asleep in a PowerPoint presentation during the last year, 22% saying it takes them less that six minutes to drift off.

By the 10-minute mark, 48% were thinking about something else. Food topped the list (53%) followed by TV they wanted to watch later that evening (36%), as well as sex (31%) and relationships (38%).

Chief executive Lyndon Nicholson said: “With the advent of smartphones, the human attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Our research showed that, astonishingly, a quarter of your audience has already disengaged within six minutes of your PowerPoint slide show starting. 

“If your presentation is a pitch to win work or funding; this means you’ve probably only just covered the background before you’ve lost your client or investor’s attention. The key is keeping people invested — and that means creating real audience engagement.”

Which is where Phillips-Baker comes in. “By following some simple cognitive communications principles you can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your presentations. In doing so, you can play to the strengths of human information processing abilities and put your leaders and your organisation out in front,” she said.

Phillips-Baker and Nicholson have compiled a set of what they call ‘lifebypowerpoint’ hacks which, they claim, will radically improve the success of your next presentation. There are nine hacks, all told.

It’s not about you
Most presentations start with background slides from the organisation presenting. Believe it or not, your audience is not interested in hearing about you. Given that the first five minutes are the crucial ones, cut straight to demonstrating you understand them and their issues and discuss how you can help, then include your bio in your appendix. If they want to talk about you, it’s there to refer to later.

Less is more
Reduce cognitive demand by avoiding cramming lots onto slides and give yourself enough time to go through them. Your audience needs time to process information. Likewise, too many slides being flicked through quickly increases the cognitive load for the audience so they will more quickly lose attention.

Audience participation
Audience engagement is all about the magic five minutes. Never speak for more than five minutes without getting them to talk back to you or ask them a question to encourage participation. It checks that they’re listening and stops them drifting off. It also allows the audience to switch between active and passive activities which keeps them engaged.

What’s on the menu?
Think about menu creation, asking your audience what they want to talk about and having colour-coded option slides prepared that you can jump to. This means you can adapt the presentation on the fly – meaning you’re prepared for any question or eventuality. Clearly signposting sections also ensures they get the right amount of information, and that their cognitive expectations are being met.

A few little words
It may seem like an obvious one, but avoid slides with lots of text. Two to three words per slide are optimal. Images are key as 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, but avoid naff clipart at all costs. Images should assist in a metaphorical sense to set the tone for what the audience is hearing and to help the presentation flow; but make it relevant —or their minds will wander on to what that odd image in the corner is!

Moving images
Microsoft have been innovating with PowerPoint over the past few years and some of the tools and features are now unparalleled. Where appropriate, use the clever animation tools to slide your message across the screen point by point and tell the story in clear chunks. Our attention is drawn to what is different, so moving images work well for helping the audience to process information.

Tell me a story
People take in information better when the narration is informal and conversational. Storytelling can also be effective, as it engages the audience on a more personal level. You can assist your audience by clearly defining the topic and presenting a road map which tells them what’s coming and how they are going to get there.

Silence is golden
Silence can be a very useful tool if used well. If needed, a presenter should take the time to gather their thoughts, which in turn provides their audience with much needed breathing space to absorb and reflect.

B for Black
One of PowerPoint’s secret weapons is the ‘b key’ on your keyboard. There are times when you want the audience’s attention just on you. Hitting ‘b’ will turn your screen black. This reduces the high demands from visual and auditory information and signals a change which maintains attention. Plus — with nothing else to look at, your audience can’t help but focus on you.

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