In fact, we can take this analogy a bit further too – by suggesting that the first few minutes of a presentation can be like the first few minutes in the gym – warming up
The trick lies in getting the key ‘stuff’ into the middle part of the presentation, when your audience’s ability to concentrate is at its highest.
But one of the big problems you’ll have, unfortunately, is judging how long your audience can concentrate for – because things are a lot easier for you, as the presenter. Firstly, you’ll be working less hard in some ways, because the material isn’t new to you – and secondly, you’re likely to be boosted up a bit, energy-wise, by your nerves and so on. Combined, those things mean you can concentrate for longer than your audience – and you’ll have to compensate for that when you present. You can’t judge their level of knackeration by your own.
The simple fact is that you need to keep a weather-eye on how much energy your audience is showing. I know this sounds a bit woo-woo, but even if they’re not moving you’ll know if they’re getting tired if you’re looking for it. Trust me on this.
So what to do when that happens?
Hit the reset button. In an ideal world, you’d have planned your presentation to have a natural break shortly before this point, but in case you haven’t, you have a few options. The first, of course, is to have a break in any case. I’ve never found an audience get upset when I’ve done this if I’ve introduced the break with an overt explanation of why I’m doing it, such as “The next bit is pretty tricky and we’re going to need to concentrate – shall we take a two-minute break so we’re fresh for the hard bit?”
If breaks are out of the question, at the very least change medium. If you’re using PowerPoint, turn it black and just talk. Or move over to a flipchart… or something… anything to make the audience hit the mental ‘reset’ button. Group exercises might work, in desperation! The key thing is to change things in such a radical way that it hits your audience’s “reset” button.
Sometimes all you need to do is swap sides of the stage, but other times you need to bring out the big guns and be very (very!) unsubtle about it.
Go for it. Hit the reset button every time you see your audience flag.