Build Interactivity in

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The average attention span of an adult is said to be about 20 minutes. That's 20 minutes of sustained attention, during which people can - more or less - concentrate on a specific task or, in our context, a presentation. The "20" is not be taken as an exact number, of course, but more like a rule of thumb. Methods like the Pomodoro Technique, which uses 25-minute intervals of focussed work would also be covered by this.

However, as Dr. John Medina argues, it's probably a good idea not to rely on your audience's undivided attention to last the full 20 minutes. Instead, he proposes a 10-minute rule (again, the "10" is not to be taken as an exact number). Dr. Medina suggests that you change your approach every 8-12 minutes or so. By this he means to switch between simply showing slides to showing a video, drawing on a whiteboard, or doing an exercise.

The dreaded Lectern, again

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A simple and effective way to better connect with your audience is to eradicate all barriers between you and them. Namely, avoid standing behind a lectern.

My usual advice is to arrive at the venue early so that you can spot these barriers and try to remove them. This doesn't work, however, when you're speaker number 3 in a row of 4 (with no pause between them) and the speakers before you are more traditionally-minded or less experienced and insist on using the lectern. Additionally, there's the technical aspect in that all the connectors for your laptop are often installed at the lectern and cannot easily be moved.

What can you do?

Finding your own Presentation Style

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When you look at the available literature about presenting, you'll notice a certain kind of books and articles promising to reveal the "secrets" of the most prominent or successful speakers. Inevitably, Steve Jobs is usually amongst the names.

But should you really try to be like one of those famous speakers?

On Brainstorming and Presentations

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We all hang on to this romanticised idea about how brainstorming works, usually in teams. It's when the brilliant and most creative minds of an organisation come together to think deeply about a problem and come up with new ideas and solutions. How could this not work?

Debra Kaye mocked this idealised notion of brainstorming in her talk at the Creativity World Forum in Kortrijk, Belgium recently with a slide that demanded "Stop Brainstorming".

Keep Calm and Carry On

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When you get up in front of an audience to present, you have to be prepared for things to go wrong. But having a Plan B for possible technical problems is not enough; you also need to have the right mindset to handle problems.

On more than one occasion I've seen speakers lose their cool when they ran into technical problems. Guess what? Complaining about the problem, cursing, or blaming the organisers of the event will not make the problem go away. But you risk losing your audience, too. Initially, the audience will be sympathetic when they realise that you're having a problem - they didn't come to see you fail! But it's your responsibility now to make the best of the situation. Complaining and stating the obvious will only put off your audience - the biggest support you'll have at that moment. Don't make that mistake.