No one wants to be that guy, the one whose captive audience spends the majority of the meeting sighing and staring their smartphones. We all know that guy, and chances are we’ve been him, too. How can anyone be expected to pay attention while Mr. Monotone drones on? Fortunately, you can avoid the mistakes that are costing you the attention of your audience—once you know what to look for.
At the root of a dull and dreary presentation is a lack of contrast. The contrast I’m talking about is a multi-dimensional technique that can easily apply to every aspect of your presentation.
Why does contrast work? Because, as humans, we are naturally drawn to it. Everything about life is filled with contrast—black and white, male and female, love and hate.
Here are some common mistakes people make around contrast.
Mistake: No contrast
A skilled communicator captures an audience’s interest by creating tension between contrasting elements—and then provides relief by resolving that tension. This is the foundation of an interesting and compelling message. You need to deliberately set different ideas or thoughts in opposition to one another in order to create interest. For example, some common presentation structures that have contrast intrinsically built into them include: problem-solution, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and advantage-disadvantage. Using one or more of those structures to present your message will instantly make it more engaging.
Mistake: Lack of opposing energies within your message
Moving back and forth between contradictory ideas encourages full engagement from the audience. Don’t let them get too comfortable in one place before you jolt them to the other side. It really boils down to the fact that every great speaker describes “what is” and then contrasts it with “what could be.” Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. To the audience, this movement feels natural and actually propels your presentation forward.
You might think that this only applies to explaining what the world looks like today (or historically) versus what it could be tomorrow. That’s the most obvious type of contrast. But it could also be “what the customer is like without your product” versus “what the customer could be with your product.” Or “what the world looks like from an alternate point of view” versus “what the world looks like from your point of view.” Basically, the gap is any type of contrast between where the audience currently is and where they could be once they know your perspective.
Mistake: Not emphasizing the contrast that already exists
If you already have contrasting elements in your message, think about ways to amplify and expand on the existing differences between them. Make the most of these inherent contrasts by describing them in vivid detail. Don’t gloss over differences. Then be sure to intentionally structure your presentation around that contrast, alternating between one side and the other.
Here’s a list of common contrast elements that you could incorporate into your next presentation.
But we’re just getting started on how to effectively use contrast to be a compelling communicator and avoid the boredom trap. Stay tuned for more posts on how to avoid the presentation mistakes you might be making. Your audience will thank you.