We’re all lazy listeners. Why would we be anything else? If something’s boring, we switch off.
No one does this more publicly than Donald Trump. Whether he’s forgetting to put his hand over his heart during the US national anthem or nodding off during his own inauguration, the leader of the free world has perhaps the shortest attention span of any human.
Sadly, when it comes to presentations, Trump’s not so different from you and me. In fact, Trump’s hazy moments reveal something universal about our capacity to stay engaged.
We’ve all endured death by PowerPoint / tedious webinars / our smug friends’ slide show of their honeymoon in Costa Rica. And we’ve all wished we had the presidential power to make it stop. Fast.
Here are our top tips on how to write a presentation fit for even the most ‘time poor’ president.
- You’ve got a few minutes, max
Speeches at President Trump’s first Nato summit this week were limited to four minutes, in order to keep him engaged (and you thought you had a lot to cram into your presentation).
Think your audience is different? Think again. Our attention levels drop off after a few minutes, unless we get some kind of change or break. Make sure you’re not talking through slides for more than a few minutes at a time.
Keep your audience engaged by asking questions – either individually (if it’s a small group) or collectively (if you’re talking to lots of people, like an event or webinar).
- Everyone likes hearing their name
Officials repeat Trump’s name in meetings to keep him engaged (though we suspect this means that all he hears is blah blah blah blah President Trump blah blah blah President Trump blah blah blah blah blah….)
One of the most persuasive words you can use is someone’s name. That’s because when we hear our name, we switch on, listen and become more receptive to whatever we hear next.
So if you’re running a session where you can interact with your audience, get to know people’s names, and use them. It’ll make them feel included and engaged.
Even in a large event, singling out one person to talk to breaks the ‘fourth wall’ between the speaker and audience – and has everyone else thinking. Stand-up comedians do it all the time to keep their audiences on their toes.
- Let pictures do the talking
The Times reported recently that Trump “likes to visualise things. The guy’s a builder. He has spent his whole life looking at architectural renderings and floor plans.”
It’s not just Trump who prefers pictures to words. Our brains are hard-wired to process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. So it’s amazing how many presentations fail simply because the speaker has tried to cram too much text onto each slide.
Generally, you don’t need many words on your slides, because these same words are usually out of your mouth. And just so we’re clear: YOUR SLIDES ARE NOT YOUR SPEAKER NOTES. They go at the bottom, where only you can see them.
If you need to put written content on slides, only include key words (not full sentences), stick to short lists (preferably 3) and spread the content out – it’s better to have more slides with less content than the other way round.
Make sure to mix it up with slides that only have pictures on them. That way, your audience will be looking at the visuals and listening to you, rather than getting bored by both.
So, don’t be a time-sucking speaker
Next time you’re writing a presentation, pin a picture of Trump’s orange face on the wall and remember these basic truths about your audience.
They might make you sigh. But they’ll also make your presentation much more interesting.