Capture your Audience's Attention by Doing Less

On how you might unintentionnaly test people's multitasking skills during your presentations

2 min read


By Erlend Morthen


December 5, 2020

When preparing a presentation it can be tempting to put up informative slides, clearly underpinning what you will talk about. It’s comforting to be backed by text during presentations. Also, it’s reassuring to have a fallback in case one slips out of the flow on stage. Sometimes it may also give a sense of authority: Having such massive slides by my side, this must be worth listening to, right?

There’s just one problem: When exposed to both speech and visuals, people tend to stop listening and focus on what's displayed instead. It’s difficult to listen and read simultaneously, and that also applies to your spectators. However, your objective is to convey a message in a clear manner, not test the audience’s multitasking abilities.

A good rule of thumb is to up a maximum of one sentence of text per slide - preferably only a few words capturing the essence of your message.

How about the fear of losing the thread? Make use of your own set of personal notes and do not forget to train for the talk whilst actively using these as support. And perhaps rehearsing in front of a friend will actually make you assured than having the wall of text behind your back?

Snowy alps

Needless to say, sometimes it makes sense to display in detail. Say you’re holding a presentation about the geography of France: It will certainly be useful to put up a map to illustrate the ocean, the sea, and the alps. But when doing so, make sure to walk the audience through the content. And do so quickly - as soon as new items are displayed, the crowd will switch from listening to reading mode.

Now, what to put on your slide deck instead? Photos or simple illustrations, setting the tone for your talk can often trigger your spectators' emotions and capture their curiosity and attention.

Good luck with your minimalistic talk!