How to Avoid “Audience Shutdown” While Giving a Presentation | AIChE

How to Avoid “Audience Shutdown” While Giving a Presentation

Julio Enrique Terán
Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Presentations are a common tool for communication in the engineering and academic world. Presentations can make a topic or person memorable; however, sometimes technical or project presentations can be tedious. In this article, I suggest several tips that can take presentations from the “regular kind of presentation” to an “outstanding kind of presentation.” 

Make your intended message a story people want to hear

Technical and academic presentations are full of facts, concepts, numbers, equations, and graphs to be shown and understood by our audience.  We believe this information transfer is enough for people to absorb it, however, sometimes simply presenting information isn’t enough.

Since ancient times, we have been fascinated by stories. A story is always nice to hear, and it is even more interesting when our narrator provides us with enough details and information to follow them and what they have to say. 
When we give a presentation, we have information that will support our premise (which is the most difficult thing to get right when telling real stories), so let’s take advantage of this.

Use these questions to help structure your story:
  1. What topic are you going to talk about?
  2. Why this topic is important to your audience? Why should they listen to you?  (It is important to state this in your presentation, it is not often obvious or implicit)
  3. What are the main points you will cover?
  4. What do you want them to remember from your presentation?

Make people curious, feed them questions

Now, you have the attention of your audience. You’ve presented the reasoning as to why they should listen and how they can put into practice the information you presented. However, that is not enough motivation to keep them interested as you speak. A good way to keep your audience engage is to provide continuous questions that you will be answering along the way. Everybody likes questions, we like to imagine possibilities that can arise, and this will keep attention growing. After all, you know the correct answers, right?
Figure 1. These two slides have the same intended message; however, questions attract people’s attention easily.

Make your slides different

Most of the time we believe that when we present all the important facts on our slide, it is easier for people to follow up if they are lost or they want to catch up with our presentation later. This way of presenting, however, does have a negative impact on the audience. If your slides are full of facts and figures, the audience will pay more attention to the slides rather than you, and consequently, they will lose interest since the story is already told by the slides!

A good way to use visual aids such as slides is to present images or words that will only make sense with the explanation you give, so when people see the slides, they will remember your message.

If you are preparing slides for a class or a course, you can follow the same methodology, however, you can put additional information, resources or your comments in the notes section, so students will be paying attention to you, not taking notes since they know they have material for reviewing later.
Figure 2. Using graphs and captions in a way that looks appealing for the audience helps to maintain their attention.

Practice makes confident

This phrase is an interesting variation from the well know expression, “practice makes perfect.” Typically, I use it as a way to motivate myself and my students when preparing their exams or presentations. When you prepare your outline, story, and slides ahead of time, and you take the time to run through the presentation several times, you will encounter several topics or slides which are more difficult for you to explain. That surely will get you nervous! So here’s my tip: if you determine which areas you must improve before the presentation, you will be prepared, more confident, and, more importantly, you will stick to your presentation plan. Try it, you will see the difference.
Hopefully, these “tips” will help you keep your audience “alive” during your next presentation. If you want to contact me for questions, suggestions or new tips, my email is
Have fun.


Kapterev A., Presentation Secrets: Do What You Never Thought Possible with Your Presentations, Wiley; 2011.
Reynolds G., Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, Pearson Education; 2011.