handling distractions in your presentations

If you’re not sure how much background noise can impact on your presentation, check out smallSimon’s video!

This is a bit of a personal-reaction blog, because a lot of people are asking me about how to make presentations or have meetings for that matter in rooms where there are lots of distractions.

(Dedicated presentation-spaces are few and far between!)

There are lots of things you can do and while some of them are obvious, others are less so. So I’m going start with some of the obvious ones.

And yes, I know… obvious doesn’t mean easy. In fact some of the hardest things to do are the most in-your-face ideas for upping the impact of your presentation!

And before you ask, I’ve done everyone of these things… or at least asked/tried! Good luck!

By the way, if you like smallSimon (and who wouldn’t!) he has about 20 videos explaining the science of presenting on our YouTube channel.

Room presentation tip one – be brave here!

I know it’s scary, but ask yourself this – maybe it’s actually, maybe it’s worth postponing the presentation. Just don’t do it! If the room is distracting enough and if the presentation is so important that you need to get it absolutely right maybe you should just ask to postpone the meeting until there’s a better room available.

Kind of can’t hurt to ask yourself the question, can it?

By the way – if you’d rather listen to this (with added notes and subtitles!) it’s on the Presentation Genius Youtube channel (along with over 100 other bits of presentation goodness!

Room presentation tips 2 & 3 – get layout radicle and then get simple

Don’t take for granted the set out of the room. Ask yourself if you can re-arrange it in any way.

Some of these ideas can be quite radical. They can involve things like turning the room round by 90 degrees – or even by 180 degrees and using the ‘back’ of the room as your ‘stage’.

All you have to do is get there half an hour, early, 10 minutes early even and move the tables and chairs to turn them around. That’s a quite spectacular change from your audience’s point of view and really attracts people’s attention.

closed blinds, better attention

This is the most blatant, obvious and crude of tips… do what you can, obviously to reduce the distractions. Kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Sadly not, because all too many people just take the room as it is. So do what you can to reduce the distractions. Close blinds, close windows, change which lights are turned on… go next door and ask (very nicely!) if they could turn their music down for just a few moments, thankyouplease!

Room presentation tip 4 – get help from the audience

This one can really freaks out less experienced presenters but it’s the obvious thing to do when you think about it. Ask Your audience what they think they could do to, or what they think you could do, to make the room less distracting. Asking like this works in two ways..

The first is it gives you ideas that you hadn’t thought of. It’s as simple as that. Obvious, right?

The second effect is more subtle – it establishes a social contract with the audience. Thats because if they’re invested in paying attention, because it’s their idea, they’re more likely to pay attention.

They’ve kind of said, “Okay, we promise we are trying to pay attention. And even our ideas don’t work, we’ll at least try to pay attention”.

Presentation tip five – what do you do anyway!

Let’s be honest, this is a tip you should do for any presentation, but it’s one that always gets forgotten about.

Don’t start presentations in meetings the way that everybody else starts them.

dice for using in the presentation
You’d be amazed at how many people find it fascinating to have a few dice on their desk!

You know the kind of thing… social chat as people walk in followed by an introduction and then the content of the presentation. Start with a bang and have something that’s really interesting and grabs an audience’s attention in the room the immediate moment they walk in – don’t leave it to the start of your presentation. For example, don’t just have a slide on your screen that tells them what the name of the presentation (let’s fact it, they know that already!), have something sexy and exciting that really grabs their attention. Music, helpful videos, props on the table, a questionnaire to fill in… you name it…

So don’t just have small chat and coffee and go “Hello, my name is Simon” as people arrive. Try asking grabber-questions such as “What would be the best outcome for you today?”

Tip six – pitch perfect around background noise

If you’re lucky, tip four will have dealt with background noise, but you can’t always manage it.

Confused woman watching a presentation

I’ve seen some, quite well-meaning presentations, trainers saying that if there’s a little background noise, what you should do is just up your volume, and they say helpfully “But don’t shout – project!”. Yes, don’t shout,… but that’s like saying to somebody who is small, have you tried being taller? I mean it just doesn’t bloody work like that does it? If you don’t know how to project your voice, you don’t know how to project your voice.

So here is a better idea.

Find the pitch of the background noise (how high-vs-low it is) and do what opera singers do. Do what actors do. Do what musicians do… and pitch slightly differently to that.

sound wave

Here’s an example. I’ve just delivered a presentation in a medium sized room with lots of windows, on a sunny day. The room got hot. It got so hot, in fact, I opted to keep the windows open to try and cool the room as less of a problem than the background traffic noise that came in through the window.

The hum of the cars was (typically and annoyingly) at almost the same pitch as my natural voice, making it harder for people to hear me – so what I slightly raised the pitch of my voice. That means my voice wasn’t particularly louder than the background noise, but because I’m not competing in the same auditory range it was a lot easier to hear. I’m going slightly higher.

What about your presentations?

I’ve skipped over half a dozen ways of making your presentation better when the room’s distracting… but every room and every presentation is different. So what about you? What sneaky tricks have you used?

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