The consensus seems to be that human attention spans are decreasing, or at least changing in nature, over time. Some speaking experts swear by keeping presentations around five or 10 minutes; others believe the 20-minute mark signifies the first major drop-off in attention. Others say audiences can listen for longer, provided the information at hand is compelling in nature and delivery. The debate surrounding how much information an audience can really retain, and how long they can sit still, rages on.
Plus, there’s the issue of rampant multi-tasking in professional environments to consider. Nearly all (95 percent) of business professionals in one survey admit to multi-tasking during meetings, and more than one-third (37 percent) lose track of the information being discussed. As a speaker, you’ll inevitably find yourself contending with plenty of modern distractions.
Whatever the exact truth, we can all agree that speakers today face a real challenge in capturing audience attention—and retaining it long enough to make their points stick. This is why it’s so crucial to prioritize audience engagement. Getting your audience involved can help grab focus and improve retention. Here are five ways to do so.
Deliver a Low-Stakes “Pop” Quiz
Hearing a teacher utter the phrase “pop quiz” during your school years is enough to elicit a shudder, or at least an eye-roll, from students. But embedding a low-stakes “pop quiz” into your presentation or lecture is a solid way to gauge retention. It also gives people a gentle reminder to re-engage if their attention span had been waning.
Pro tip: Try breaking a long presentation into several distinct sections, each one involving a short, interactive, multiple-choice pop quiz. You can use the feedback you receive to determine whether it’s better to move onto the next section or cover a tricky point again.
Hold a Trivia Contest
Competition is another way to spice up an otherwise straightforward presentation. Trivia makes learning fun—and gives people a reason to tune in. As Presentation Magazine notes, “The promise of rewards for the most attentive participants will keep concentration levels high throughout your presentation.” The rewards may either be tangible prizes for a winning individual/team or simply the pride of coming out on top.
Collaborate on a Word Cloud
A little visual interest goes a long way in a presentation—colors, responsive elements, etc. People also tend to enjoy the opportunity to contribute unique input. The best word cloud generator like Poll Everywhere’s tool combines these advantages, allowing participants to contribute words and phrases through their mobile devices based on a prompt of the speaker’s choosing. It’s a quick, visually appealing way to bring everyone together.
Ask for Audience Volunteers
Whether or not it makes sense to ask for audience volunteers during your presentation depends on its exact nature. Trying to demonstrate a product/process or bring an abstract concept to life? It’s possible that asking for volunteers from your audience will help make the outcomes seem more exciting and real to the rest of the audience.
Create Break-Out Discussion Groups
Delivering information in a one-way lecture format gets old, fast. So, turn your audience members into active participants rather than passive viewers. Here’s what one Forbes contributor recommends: “Ask listeners to divide into small groups and discuss a concept for a few minutes, then share what they’ve talked about with the rest of the audience.”
It’s a low-tech solution but can be very handy for increasing retention and solidifying concepts. Plus, talking and critically thinking will help people regain their focus.
These solutions represent just five ways to get your audience more involved during your next presentation, but they’re a solid start.