Archive for May, 2009

Why Audiences Tune Out

Thursday, May 7th, 2009


I have written articles and best practices on how to engage audiences of all sizes. This entry addresses factors that can alienate the audience and cause them to tune out the speaker or presenter.  Whether I am coaching emerging speakers, or watching a more seasoned presenter there are recurring actions which contribute to  audience detachment.Many of these are simply due to lack of preparation. Most people know that being prepared is fundamental to the success of their speech or presentation yet  all too often it is ignored. If you are fortunate to be given a platform to share your ideas then you  have a responsibility to respect the time and attention of the audience.


1. Reading your notes rather than connecting with the audience.  I don’t mean referring, I mean reading. There is a recognizable difference. How can you make a connection if your focus is on your paper?   Reading verbatim is also one of the primary signals that you have not made an effort to learn your material. It also begs the question, ” If you are an expert on the topic, why are you reading?”.

2. Over used and overwritten slides. This is a similar crutch to notes. Instead of actually taking the time to learn the key messages and flow of your content you let the slides do the work for you.  Audience immediately respond to this dependency as weak and uninteresting. Particularly if your slides do not offer compelling and unique visuals. We are all familiar with the term ‘Death by PowerPoint’ – specifically by the bullets!

4. Using larger words when smaller ones will do.  No need to impress the audience with your cleverness. Obviously you are an expert in your field or you would not be invited to speak.  Words that require  a dictionary can be patronizing and off-putting. Be selective, limit technical jargon. Speak conversationally not academically.

5.  Rushing through your content.  Trying to keep up with the rapid pace of the speaker is extremely frustrating. You send the message that you are in a rush and want the experience to be over with ASAP.   It also appears that you really don’t care if the audience is able to keep up with what you are saying.  Audiences shouldn’t have to catch their breath to catch up with the speaker.

6. More bells and whistles than content. Video clips, photos, music can all add dimension and engagement to the presentation if used strategically and sparingly. However, if  used in excess it looks like you have padded your presentation with filler rather than quality content. People are there to hear your ideas not watch a mult-media show.

7. Lack of customization. If you have delivered a presentation you are likely aware of how important it is to  ‘know your audience’.  A little customization goes a long way to making the connection and building credibility. Show the audience that you have cared enough to learn about them and their specific needs and environment.