The last thing an educator wants to be described as boring. Start by thinking about what makes a presentation boring to you. Perhaps a monotone presenter, reading slides, dry facts with no emotion and/or taking too long to make a point. To keep presentations engaging to your audience, you want to avoid those pitfalls. People learn by different styles based on gender, culture, generation and a multitude of other factors. Let’s take a look at some ways you can grab and hold your audience’s attention.
1. Be present, both physically and mentally
This goes for you and your audience. Imagine how many distractions you are competing with. Minds tend to wander to home, work, school, children, lunch — the list goes on and on. Consider how many times you have been in a class or presentation and spent your time thinking about and maybe even doing something else. Adult learners want to know the information will benefit them. Explain how your presentation is going to enlighten or help them.1 In other words, show them why they should focus on your presentation. You may want to begin with something that gets and holds the attention of your audience and builds a connection. You might try an icebreaker, story or activity.
2. Prepare for your presentation
If possible, know the size and layout of the room and have a general idea about your target audience. You may be doing a presentation for an audience of professional colleagues, a class for clients or a talk for the general public. Plan your presentation accordingly. Know the material you are presenting and the points you want to convey. Depending on the presentation, you may be drawing from your experiences or educating on subject matter. Spend time researching your subject and have a plan for how you will present the information. Speak to your audience about how they might benefit from the information presented. Arrange the room in a way that is conducive to learning. Think of how you are most comfortable presenting and from where you like to present. Do you move around or are you stationary? Be part of the group you are teaching — connect with your audience. For example, in small groups where everyone is sitting, you may want to sit and talk with the audience. In larger audiences, you may want to walk around and make eye contact with people in the audience. Be sure to pause to let them process information. Watch for verbal and non-verbal affirmation: a word of understanding, a nod and/or a smile.
3. Presenting to a diverse audience
Remember that generations may have different learning styles. For example, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers tend to expect to work for their learning. Generation Y and Millennials tend to want the answer at their fingertips. They are accustomed to being able to access everything with a touch of a button at any time.2,3 Gender differences play a role in learning and class participation. Males tend to speak and process information in facts and straightforward answers. Females, on the other hand, tend to be storytellers and enjoy more emotion in learning.4–6 Culture may play a role in your teaching. For example, making eye contact with an authority figure is considered disrespectful in some cultures, while it can signal disinterest or inattentiveness in others.7
4. Incorporate activities into your presentations
Activities can be a great way to help your audience be more involved and feel a part of the experience. If you use a presentation style that involves hands-on learning, explain what you are planning, but give them a choice to not participate and be spectators. To solicit involvement, you may ask questions or allow sharing of experiences. Other ways to encourage involvement include having the participants demonstrate what they have learned or to invest emotionally by storytelling (saying how they would do it). A good way to gain participation may be by providing incentives, recognition or giveaways. Thank your audience for their willingness to participate in activities.
5. Involving your audience
You want your presentation or class to be memorable and useful. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”8 Involve your audience by giving them the opportunity to be part of the presentation process. You might use a heartwarming story about something that worked for someone else, a humorous tale of experiences with family and/or friends or another experience to add to the information being presented.
6. Adding humor
Humor is a great way to stay involved and connect with your audience. Be careful to ensure your humor has a point. It should add to your presentation and help strengthen the points you are trying to make. Be careful to use humor in a way that is not offensive to your audience.9 What is funny to you may not be funny to everyone. Watch for laughter, body language and approval as you integrate new humor.
The more you practice presenting, the more chances you have to polish and refine your presentation skills. Before the actual presentation, practice in front of your friends or co-workers and solicit constructive criticism that you can use to make the final product better. Ask for clarification about why they think something needs to be changed. Remember that it is your decision to make or not make changes based on the advice of others. Be comfortable with the presentation material and style. If your presentation starts to feel boring to you, change it up — be creative and/or add something new — while still getting the same points across.
Have fun with your presentations. Use these tips to avoid the boredom pitfalls and provide your audience with a stimulating learning environment.
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About our expert: Mechelle Coble MS, RD, LD, CDE, MLDE, Lincoln Trail District Health Department, Elizabethtown, Kentucky