The following heartrate chart was created from Fitbit data gathered during a speaker’s presentation. Notice anything interesting?

FIT-BIT GRAPH
(Source)

The speaker’s heartrate increased in the time leading up to the presentation, was highest during the first few minutes of talking, and then quickly, steeply declined until the end of the presentation.

According to studies and anecdotal evidence, this heartrate pattern is completely normal and to be expected.

Here’s the thing that many presenters don’t realise, though:

The audience’s attention span follows the same pattern.

They are excited and attentive when the presentation begins – and their attention declines from there.

You can actually use this pattern with both your heartrate (nervous energy) and your audience’s attention span to your advantage.



Start Strong – and Hook ‘em Early

In my experience, you have about 20 minutes before your audience members’ attention spans are spent. Some sources argue that 18 minutes is actually the maximum attention span you can expect – while others say that you actually have only 12 minutes or less.

But let’s give your audience the benefit of the doubt, shall we? Let’s assume your audience is awake and excited to be there – and you’ve got 20 minutes to get your point across.

Even the most practiced presenter experiences an increased heartrate early in each talk. Successful presenters, however, channel this nervous energy into a strong start.

Your audience is excited and attentive when your presentation starts. The first two minutes is critical for winning their hearts and minds for the next 18 minutes.

Those first two minutes are also when you (the presenter) are the most stressed, charged and excited. In some ways, that adrenaline is giving you a boost to be the best you can be when you open your presentation. To avoid coming across as nervous, use that energy to get the audience’s attention.



CRAZY SOCK PUPPET IS CRAZY

Getting the audience’s attention in those first two minutes will earn their attention for the remainder of your presentation. If you fail here, there is no recovery.

Consider the first two minutes your “hook window.”

Telling a story is a great way to both take advantage of your raised heartrate (a little extra energy during a story adds excitement) and engage your audience in a big way.

A story engages the cognitive areas of the audience’s brains and the sensory areas, too. Need some ideas for stories that’ll hook your listeners? Here are 8 of them.



Don’t Let a Lower Heartrate Lull You into Boring Your Audience

Your audience’s energy will mimic yours.

As your heartrate drops, chances are your audience’s will do the same. So don’t start high and finish low – and don’t fall into the trap of believing that once you’ve relaxed, your audience will still feel excited.



SHRUGGY SOCK PUPPET

Start strong, yes, but maintain energy and momentum through the rest of the presentation.

  • Mix your content up a bit. After conveying important information, tell another story to reengage the sensory areas of your listeners’ brains.
  • Use more images and pictures in your slides – and use fewer bullet points.
  • Do a demonstration in the middle of your presentation, instead of waiting until the end.
  • Get the audience involved. Ask for feedback or pose a question.
  • Get your listeners laughing. Inject a few jokes into your presentation to lighten the mood and increase engagement.



Wrap It Up With a Bang

Then, finish as strong as you started. Make your conclusion exciting.

  • Give them a piece of information or a solution that they’re anxious to go out and try.
  • Inspire them with a final uplifting or compelling story.
  • Move the audience with a call to action.



SOCK PUPPET CELEBRATING

Just remember this: When your audience thinks back to your presentation, the last thing you told them will be the first thing that comes to mind. So make sure your most important message is included in your conclusion.



Use Your 20 Minutes Wisely

Your heartrate is highest in the first couple of minutes of any presentation. But that energy is a GOOD thing.

Use it to your advantage.

Start strong and hook your audience – then as your heartrate drops, focus on keeping your energy up throughout the rest of your talk so your audience’s energy will remain up as well.

And remember. You only have 20 minutes to make your point in any presentation. Never exceed it.

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