Spark a Fire: 5 Tips to Grab and Hold Audience Attention

Yaaaawn. Even the best presentations lose your attention. Why? Because your brain is fast. Your mind drifts once you decide the information presented is unimportant or uninteresting; therefore, it is unnecessary to pay attention. You need to be engaged to stay focused. Your audience is exactly the same.

The following are five techniques to capture and hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.

1. Surprise. Say, show or do something that is shocking or unexpected. It can be as simple as a loud noise (a clap or a few notes of music) or an odd picture added to the slide deck. The purpose is to reengage the audience’s brain. Being unpredictable or incongruent snaps the mind to attention.

For example, I attended a presentation where a hidden presenter “typed” sentences on the screen instead of speaking. The audience was dead silent and engaged the entire time.

2. Cognitive Dissonance. Keep your audience guessing. Hold their brains off balance by feeding bits of information as opposed to revealing your point early. Build a graphic slide by slide like assembling a puzzle. Slowly reveal parts of your graphic, briefly speak to each part and build your graphic so your point is revealed in the end.

3. Storytelling. Tell an interesting story that complements your presentation. Remember the saying, “Facts tell and stories sell.” Stories hook audiences from the start. Share a unique story to hold their attention and make sure to tie it into your presentation.

4. Involve. Ask your audience to participate. Play a game, pose a question, solve a puzzle, or perform an exercise. For example, avoid telling your audience everything. Let them learn through trial and error. Give your group an exercise and ask what worked and what did not.

5. Senses. The more senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch) you engage, the stronger the interest. For example, play sad music, show images of neglected animals and give your audience a cuddly puppy toy to pet while telling a moving story about animal rescue.

Combine these techniques for a winning presentation. During my graphic training sessions, I show the following symbol (allegedly created for the United States Department of Homeland Defense for use during disasters) and ask, “What does this mean?”

By doing so, I use two of the techniques listed above to capture my audience’s attention (“Cognitive Dissonance” and “Involve”).

Know your audience. If your audience feels manipulated and your approach using these tactics held little relevance to the topic, you will lose their attention—and trust.

In the end, your goal is to affect your audience emotionally. Use these five techniques to spark a fire within your audience. Give them a reason care. Get them excited or concerned to engage their hearts and minds during and after your presentation.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert, presenter and multi-published author. Visit Billion Dollar Graphics ( and BizGraphics On Demand ( for helpful presentation tools. Mike is also a partner at 24 Hour Company (, a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.

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