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Dave Hill, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Engineer

Dave Hill, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Engineer

Wake up!

  •  Keep your audience focused by being relevant.
  • Use interactive techniques; vary your presentation.

Visualize a meeting where about 40 people are crammed into a conference room listening to technical presentation after technical presentation for a full day.  The delivery mode is primarily PowerPoint with lots of wordy data on the slides.  The technical data is overwhelming, the pace of data exchange is fast, and people can be seen fidgeting in their seats.  The room lights are dimmed to allow the PowerPoint to be the focus of attention and to make the slides visible to people in the back of the room.

Recently, I was sitting in this audience and the presenter was interrupted to get clarification on a point.  As he responded, an out-of-place rumbling sound was heard: someone was snoring.  The presenter paused to see who was asleep, then smiled and continued to answer the question.  Suddenly, the sound escalated into a full-blown, high-volume snoring session.  Smiles and glances bounced around the room, and someone gently nudged the snorer in the back.  He awoke in a moment of shock, quickly becoming aware that he had been caught napping. 

If you present intricate or technical information, how would it feel to have an audience member fall asleep and start snoring?  Have you ever had to present a technical subject after your audience has had a heavy lunch?  Have you ever been distracted by someone nodding off during your presentation?


  1. It will help if there is fresh air in the room and the temperature is not too warm or cold.  Can you increase the ventilation rate without creating disturbing background noise?
  2. Know your subject and display energy, enthusiasm and vocal variety.  Make sure your voice can be heard clearly throughout the room, or people will tune you out.
  3. Give audience members a written agenda so they have a clear image of the flow of the content. This also helps keep the session on track and on time.  If discussions get bogged down or off-topic, the agenda gives you a reason to step in.  We have all witnessed the audience member whose comments go on and on, causing the audience to get fidgety and start tuning out.
  4. At the beginning of the presentation, give attendees a brief review of the rules for:
    • Cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices
    • Side conversations
    • Off-topic comments
    • Questions (are they allowed throughout the presentation or toward the end?)

Then enforce the rules.

  1. Have frequent breaks.
  2. If you have control over snack food and lunches, consider keeping them light (minimize the potential for “food coma”).
  3. Vary the modes of presenting as much as possible.  You could include:
    • You speaking
    • Video clips
    • A flip chart
    • A whiteboard
    • Asking an audience member to provide an example to drive home your point
  4. Illuminate your points with real-life examples.  Stories and humor fit well with the delivery of technical and intricate information.  Use the framework of making a point, telling a relevant story and demonstrating how this can be practically applied by the audience.  The most effective stories are those that the audience can relate to.
  5. If using PowerPoint or another type of slide presentation, put effort into providing visual information rather than overloading with technical data.  If possible, design your slides’ color scheme so that you do not have to dim the lights to see them and/or use a high lumen projector.
  6. Use interactive techniques.
    • Get the audience brainstorming on a subject, then choose the ideas you want them to “drill down” and explore in more detail.  The initial brainstorming could be conducted on a flip chart if the writing is visible to the audience.  Another way would be to have a computer and projector and assign an assistant to type in the ideas.
    • Ask the audience to form groups to brainstorm a point.  Ask them to assign a leader to summarize each group’s thoughts.
    • Ask the audience (or small groups) to discuss the pros and/or cons of a specific idea.
    • A powerful way of energizing a meeting or presentation is to include competition, such as a game.  Everyone — from front-line workers to executives — has a competitive urge.  The important aspect here is to know your audience to make sure the competition/game is appropriate to the attendees, the occasion and the learning value.
    • A simple way of getting audience members focused on the best choices is to give them a choice of several answers and ask them to identify the least effective ones.
    • When I have a presentation that uses a handout, I may have some pages with sentences that are missing key words.  Audience members fill in the words as the information is given to them.  This technique provides you with a “cheat sheet” so you do not need to remember the content and order of the information.  It also helps the audience retain the information.
    • Research indicates that when audiences hear information, they remember about 20 percent after a week; if they listen and see information, they remember about 50 percent; and if they listen, see and physically work out a problem, or solve a specific problem with “hands on” techniques, they are likely to remember about 75 percent.


Next time you feel yourself nodding off or losing interest during a presentation, ask yourself, “If I was this presenter, what would I do differently to make this more effective?”