When you get up to do a presentation and the audience appears to be sitting like a group of disinterested robots, keep going – keep smiling, talking, keep trying to engage them.


Don’t expect the audience to smile or nod their heads when you are doing your presentation. Even your best friend will not smile and may even look away from you. This is normal! Most students who do presentations can get despondent when they get up to do a presentation and within a few minutes it appears as if the audience has “switched off”. Don’t take this personally. If you think about the communication situation then you will understand why the audience appears to be so.

In one-to-one communication, there is frequent eye contact and backchannels (um, er, yeh, mhm). In one-to-many communication such as a presentation, eye contact and backchannels are less frequent – it is just the nature of the communication situation. So when you get up to do a presentation and the audience appears to be sitting like a group of disinterested robots, keep going – keep smiling, talking, keep trying to engage them. Inside they are listening and hopefully you will bring a smile to their face at the end.

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Inside they are listening and you can bring a smile to their face in the end.

A good presenter always looks for ways to engage the audience. One of the simplest ways to engage them is to ask a question. At the start of the presentation this is especially effective.

  • Do you know what X is?
  • Has anyone every done Y?
  • What do you know about Z?

Wait for the answer and take a bit of time to follow up on any interesting leads. You do not need to rush into the main content.As you progress through the presentation, you should look for ways to engage the audience at strategic points. It is estimated that an audience can only listen to approximately seven (7) minutes of material before they start to switch off. At this point, the presenter needs to regain their attention. Other techniques for gaining attention are:

  • Giving a short quiz
  • Displaying some unusual photographs
  • Quoting a famous person
  • Telling a joke
  • Showing  a 3-D object

By engaging the audience you will bridge the gap. And by bridging the gap you will engage the audience; the two are mutually inclusive.

Bridge the gap

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