Building a Presentation People will Pay Attention To: Getting Started

Knowing what your audience will find valuable is only the start of getting their attention. But you need to convert that into the first two slides in your presentation if you want to get your audience to care.

How to get people to pay attention
How to get people to pay attention

Getting a dog’s attention is easy: Hold up a treat (or, for my Great Dane, a squeaky toy). Getting people’s attention, on the other hand, is harder. Yet, getting your audience’s attention is the critical success factor for your presentation.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t important topics to address in creating presentations (ensuring understanding, creating an effective style, making an emotional connection with your audience). But none of that will matter if your audience doesn’t care about what you’re talking about. You can get your audience’s attention just by paying attention to two slides at the start of your presentation.

In my last blog post I talked about how focusing on your audience, rather than your content or your own interests, gives you the tools to keep your audience listening. And that’s all very good…but it’s all pretty theoretical when you fire up PowerPoint and have to actually create your presentation. Learning Tree’s  Public Speaking: Compelling Speeches and Presentations outlines a five-step process that allows you to convert what you know about your audience into an engaging presentation. I can’t cover that in a blog post but I can talk about those two critical first slides.

The Right Title

The first slide in your presentation is your title slide, so that’s where you start to get your audience’s attention. As I suggested in my last post  you need to give your presentation a title that communicates what your audience will think is valuable in your presentation. An ideal title also includes a description of the intended audience for your presentation — this can help ensure that only the interested parties will show up.

While the title appears at the start of your presentation, crafting the title may not be the first thing you do. Often it’s a better idea to create your presentation and then, once you have a thorough understanding of your presentation and its audience, create the title.

Whenever you do create the title, it doesn’t have to be long: “Using Google Doc for Microsoft Word Users” both tells your audience what the value of the presentation is — learning how to use Google Docs — and who the presentation is aimed at — Microsoft Word users (and would be a far more useful title than something cleverer like “Googling Docs”, for example). As a title, “Financial Implications of the New Restructuring Plan” does the same job: It describes the value — understanding the finance issues — and who the presentation is aimed at — those affected by (or interested in) the new restructuring plan.

You shouldn’t stop with your first title, however. While “Financial Implications of the New Restructuring Plan” is a perfectly good title, it doesn’t address why the audience cares about the topic. An even better title would be “Improving Our Financial Stability with the New Restructuring Plan” because, presumably, your audience wants to know that the financial situation will be better after restructuring. After generating your title review it and ask “Is this what the audience cares about?” The more of the value that you can put in the title, the more likely it is that you’ll capture your audience’s attention.

There are other benefits to a good title: If attendance at your presentation is mandatory and lots of people who aren’t interested are going to have to attend, a good title will allow those people who aren’t interested to come prepared. They can bring a pillow, for example (or bring their smartphones and get caught up on their email).

The Essential Introduction

The second slide in your presentation should describe to the audience why they should care about your presentation: It should fill in the details about how your presentation connects to what your audience values. This may seem foolish — after all, you may think, surely everyone knows why they’re there (especially after they’ve seen your title slide).

If you did think that, you’d be wrong a surprising amount of the time. When I present at conferences participants can pick or choose among many sessions being presented at the same time. You’d think that, having made a conscious decision to come to my presentation, rather than some other one, everyone in the room would know why they were there (certainly, I know why I’m there). I’ve found, however, including the slide that describes the value of the presentation, in terms that are meaningful to the audience, always raises the audience’s evaluation of the presentation. Always.

At Learning Tree we call this “Turning up the volume on station WII-FM (What’s In It For Me).

And this introduction slide should immediately follow your title slide and come before everything else you do, including introducing yourself. Until people care about your presentation, they won’t care about you.

Getting the title slide right and providing the introduction slide will get your audience’s attention at the start of your presentation. But, if that doesn’t work, try holding up a squeaky toy.

Or, join us on our 3-day Public Speaking course!

This is the third post on creating presentations and documents that your audience will pay attention to. The first two posts talk about the importance of getting the readers’ attention and what you have to do before you start creating your document or presentation.

The next post shows how how to structure the body of the presentation to keep your audience’s attention.

The last two posts do the same thing for creating a document that will get read, beginning with how to get people to pay attention to your document and then going on to discuss how to structure the document’s body so people will continue to read it.

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