I am indebted to a close contact of mine Ian Brownlee for bringing to my attention the results of an International study on Presentations 2000 to 2012 (updated in Dec 2017).
The study aimed to identify why audiences lose interest and stop paying attention during presentations. I’m sure this is something any presenter would want to understand.
I hardly need to explain why this is a bad outcome. In short, you’ve wasted your best opportunity to get your message across and wasted everyone’s time into the bargain.
I don’t believe that anybody deliberately sets out to deliver a bad presentation. The vast majority of presenters seem to genuinely believe they are presenting well. They might not be totally confident in their own ability but they believe they have done all they could to deliver their messages successfully - even when they haven’t.
Can You Rely On Audience Feedback?
Understanding current performance levels is the first step towards improvement. Unfortunately, audience feedback isn't much help. It's very difficult for an audience to objectively critique a presentation and it’s even more difficult for the presenter to receive this critique objectively.
A better place to start might be to understand the most common behaviours that will make your audience switch off. Bear in mind too, that remote presentations make the task of keeping your audience engaged that much harder.
In no particular order here are 5 of the most common issues that arise:
Grasp the Limitations of Working Memory
Without going too deeply into the science behind it, maintaining audience engagement is all to do with our working memory. This is how much information our brains can evaluate and retain. Miller's original research suggested this to be 7+/- 2 pieces of information. More recent studies by Cowan & Shu and others suggest that the memory can process up to 14 connected or related visual elements – lending further weight to the oft quoted cliché that “a picture paints a thousand words.”
Shu, et al, also state that Working Memory is able to easily process 3 chunks of incoming information at one time. E,g., The good, the bad and the ugly. The Father, the son and the holy ghost, etc.. Listen to any politician and note how often points come in groups of three!
So in practical terms, to improve your presentations you must avoid overloading the working memory:
Doing all of this is easier said than done. It’s beneficial to have an objective external opinion to coach you on how effectively you are implementing these points and to provide encouragement and coaching on subtle ways of improving.
If your presentation is of critical importance to you and your business, you really want to do all you can to keep your audience alert and engaged, and ready to absorb the points you need to communicate.
The Bid Coach consultants are experts in effective communication. We help individuals and businesses large and small to improve the effectiveness of their presentations so they become sought-after experts and win more business.
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