Most people have probably seen the memorable scene from the movie Ferris Beuller’s Day Off where Ben Stein, playing a teacher, drones on and on in a monotone voice and students struggle to stay awake. Unfortunately, some conference presentations leave attendees with the same struggle as those students faced.

The last thing you want to do is talk about a topic no one cares about or to present the topic in a way that leaves attendees yawning.

Choosing an Engaging Topic

The first step to a successful presentation lies in the topic you choose. You’ll want to make sure to:

  • Choose a topic the audience cares about. Hopefully, the event presenters have already ensured this when vetting topics, but just in case, you’ll want to pay attention to topics covered at past conferences and stay on top of industry trends.
  • Narrow your topic. If you try to cover too broad of a topic, you may find that the presentation lacks focus. With most presentations being 25 minutes or so long, you’ll want to stick to only one main idea, but keep it narrow enough that you can cover it COMPLETELY in that time.
  • Run the idea past others in your industry and ask for feedback. They may have ideas on how you can better tweak the topic to make it engaging to attendees.

Presenting Your Topic

According to Technische University in the Netherlands, the typical audience has an attention span that dips in the middle of a presentation. While only a few people will have come specifically to hear you speak, the majority of conference attendees are likely there for other reasons, such as to see the celebrity keynote, network with others, or even as a work requirement. According to the university, the audience’s attention will drop to where it is only 10-20% of what it was when your talk started.

Interest picks back up when the speaker announces he is getting ready to conclude his talk. The audience wants to walk away with something usable, so he pays attention again.

Plan Out Your Talk

As a workshop presenter, you can use the information from this research to plan out your talk.

  • Announce in your opening that you will offer vital information that will be helpful, so the attendees will want to pay close attention.
  • Do mini conclusions throughout your talk. If interest picks back up when a conclusion is announced, then announce the conclusion often. Example, “I’m going to conclude on this topic and then we’ll talk about three more points before wrapping up.” When researchers at the university used this method, the audience interest barely dipped between the opening and closing of the presentation.
  • Stay on topic. There is nothing worse than a speaker who takes off down rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
  • Provide useful information. Use the time you have to instruct and help your workshop attendees. Don’t waste all their time telling them stories about funny things you’ve done or how great you are. They won’t be impressed. Instead, give them tools they can take with them and apply to their work lives.

Make Your Workshop Interactive

One of the keys to engaging the audience and keeping them interested is by getting them involved in the presentation. Here are some ideas for keeping the audience engaged throughout:

  • Plan skits to illustrate your points. Invite audience members to act out parts of these skits.
  • Ask questions.
  • Invite the audience to ask you questions.
  • Point to someone you know and ask their opinion. If they have a different viewpoint than you, this can make for great give and take.
  • Ask for a show of hands or have them stand up if they have ever (fill in the blank). If nothing else, the physical movement will keep them away.

Create a Memorable Moment

One of the best pieces of advice given by speaker training groups is to create a memorable moment in your presentation. The idea is that this moment will stick in the minds of those who attended your workshop. Even if the rest of your presentation was a complete snoozefest (let’s hope not), they will remember you for this moment.

This is called a STAR moment or Something They’ll Always Remember (S.T.A.R.). One example would be when Bill Gates was giving a talk on malaria and pretended to release a jar full of malaria mosquitoes. You better believe that gained the audience’s attention and wasn’t something they forgot quickly. You may not want to take your memorable moment that far, though. The goal really isn’t to horrify and anger your audience.

A better example is from healthy school foods advocate Jamie Oliver gave a presentation and dumped a wheelbarrow full of sugar on the stage to show how much sugar schools are feeding children. It is a stark visual and one that sticks with the audience long after the presentation is over.

Figure out your memorable moment and your presentation will be one they’ll never forget.

Topic you might be interested in: How to Drive Attendee Satisfaction