Presentations: The Middle
Getting your talk off to a good start is a big accomplishment! The next challenge is keeping the audience engaged through the body of the talk. There are several things you can do to help listeners remain interested and alert.
1) Insert collection points. Since most people won’t pay attention all the way through your talk, you can insert collection points to help them rejoin the storyline. For instance, you could remind them of the main point and how it connects back to the big picture (e.g., "The main point here is that.... This is relevant because.....") Or, you could offer a summary and articulate the next natural question (e.g., "We have seen that... But....?").
In general, you should plan to zoom out from the detail and connect it to the big picture every 4-6 slides. But also watch your audience for signs that it is time to insert a collection point.
2) Answer questions thoroughly and politely. Often, one audience member will voice a question that many others are mulling over silently in their heads. So it is a good idea to answer questions thoroughly and politely.
- Make sure you actually answer the question that is asked. One way to do this is to check with the audience member that you have answered their question.
- Try not to postpone answering questions. When you get a question that will fit better into another section of the talk, it's tempting to respond with a statement like, “I’ll come to that later.” While it is OK to defer a longer discussion until later, wherever possible, try to offer at least a quick overview answer before moving on.
- Structure your answers. Many speakers think out loud when answering a question. Such answers go something like this: "Detail 1... but Detail 2....and Detail 3...." As you can see, they're working out the answer while answering.
A more compelling structure is something like this: "Overview answer. This comes from putting Details 1, 2, and 3 together in this way...." A structured answer isn't easy to deliver on the fly, so it's a good idea to prepare answers to the questions you anticipate will be asked. If you have spent time structuring your answers before the talk, you can respond more confidently: you can listen to the question, take a moment to reflect, and then deliver a clear and concise answer.
3) Maintain a good atmosphere. As the speaker, you have the power to create a good atmosphere in the room. This is because the audience takes behavioral cues from you: if you're relaxed and friendly, they will be too; if you're fidgety and nervous, they will be too. To learn more about how you can regulate your body language, see our post on setting a relaxed, friendly tone for your talk.
Post by Varanya Chaubey
Image by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, PD-US.