Confucius said: “If anyone could listen to me without growing weary, who else could it be than Yan Hui?” (1)
It takes more than a stunning PowerPoint deck and a compelling story to maintain people’s attention when they are just a tap on their smartphone screen away from the temptations of social media and email.
One tip that I was taught years ago and remains remarkably effective is to establish eye contact with members of the audience and keep on switching it as you make your presentation. That way, you’ll not only be able to establish a closer connection but you’ll also let them know that there’s a good chance you’ll return to them later.
Another tip is to move around the stage and make gestures when you reach an important point in your narrative. Best not to overdo it though unless you want to look like a complete idiot. So many people have been trained to show their “passion” through their body language that they look like a puppet without a string as they flap their arms about.
The most important presentation tip of all, however, is to practice so hard before you step on stage that you are in full command of your narrative and your slides fade into the background. Nothing captures the attention of an audience more than someone who really knows what they’re talking about and doesn’t need to resort to any tricks to keep their eyes away from smartphone screens.
This article features a translation of Chapter 20 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.
(1) Yan Hui was the star pupil and protégé of Confucius. He died an untimely death at the age of thirty-two. You can read more about Yan Hui here.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.