Letting the audience get ahead of you is one of the most common ways of killing a good presentation.
Once your audience know what you are going to say next, or even just think that they know what you are going to say next, there is a strong tendency for them to switch off and start thinking about other things. They will get bored waiting for you to say it and get on to the next point.
But how can an audience get ahead of you?
There are many ways for an audience can get ahead of you, if you let them. One of the most common ways is when you put up a slide with several bullet points on it and start working your way down the list. Before you are even through the first sentence describing the first bullet point, your audience will have read the slide. If the bullets are self explanatory, then they will get ahead of you. They will have caught the gist of what you are going to say and then have to wait for you to say it. While they are waiting, their minds will wander and you will have to work much harder to recapture their attention.
Using the line by line reveal facility in PowerPoint, will reduce the scale of the problem but still does not cure it. If you bring up the bullet point first and then start talking about it, you have still let the audience get ahead of you, and you will be telling them “old news”, as they have already read the headline. If you have to use bullet points, bring them up after you have talked about the topic to reinforce what it is you have said. Better still uses some pictures or even some physical props to help get your message across and leave the bullet points on your speaker notes.
Of course, handing out printed copies of the whole presentation before the event is another classic way of allowing the audience to get ahead of you. Have you ever looked at the audience during the first key note speech at a conference? Most of them will still be scanning through the handouts working out which presentations they think will be worth listening to, not paying the slightest attention to what the key note speaker is saying.
In the same vain, putting up an agenda slide at the start of a presentation is another way for your audience to “get ahead”. I know it is fairly common practise to have an agenda slide at the start of a presentation but I think this is done more out of habit than for the benefit to your audience. How many feature films do you know that start with an agenda? Agenda or contents pages are only relevant to printed documents so that the reader can skip to the part they are most interested in. Do you want your audience to skip to the part of your presentation they are most interested in, and ignore the rest?
Presentations need to have a structure, so that your audience can understand how you have taken them to where they are now. But this structure does not need to be broadcast in advance in can be revealed as you go along.
To keep an audience listening you need to build in some suspense and tension just like in a television drama or a play. Don’t give the game away by letting them see a précis of your talk before you have a chance to speak.
All the very best for your future presentations