Presenting? Here's how you keep your audience captivated

Online presenteren

Presenting well is an art that you can master with focused practice and feedback. Telling an academic story concisely can be quite a challenge. Especially if you also want to be convincing and keep your audience interested. So how do you do that?

Preparing your presentation

First, think carefully about the goal of the presentation. You need to tell your audience "something" about a topic or research, which can quickly result in a recited version of a written article. Consequence: Your audience drops out, or is less able to follow and remember your story. The tips below will help you get started in preparing your presentation.

Formulate a core message

Your core message is a specific statement about a topic that you use as a guiding principle when designing your presentation. A good presentation gives a substantiated answer to your question. If you have found that question or core message, your presentation will be more persuasive and interesting.

Use a to-the-point structure

To ensure that your audience remembers the core message, you will need to repeatedly refer to it during your presentation. A useful rule of thumb is the study tip To the point presentation.

Involve your audience in your story

A presentation often feels like a one-way street. The attention to and from your audience is therefore crucial. Think of ways to involve people in your story. For example, come up with a catchy opening, in which you present your audience with a situation and make them think about it. By regularly engaging your audience, you keep people on their toes. you can seek interaction by letting your audience give input. Think carefully about the function of your question, the type of answers you can expect and how you will use them in your story. you can also seek interaction less directly, by asking a rhetorical question, or tapping into common sense.

Use PowerPoint in a clever way

Provide a dynamic, visually appealing PowerPoint. Limit the amount of text and let your PowerPoint act as a backdrop to your story. Guide your audience through the graphics and images as if you were a guide in a museum. That way you focus their attention and use the PowerPoint to reinforce your story.

Presenting your presentation

To hold attention, you must use the tools at your disposal very deliberately. With your posture, supporting gestures, expression and use of space, you can reinforce your story and keep your audience captivated. 

Intonation is the number 1 factor

You use your intonation to give meaning to spoken sentences, thereby making it less difficult for the listener to take in the content. Good intonation indicates expression or animation, thereby captivating the listener. You can use your voice to ‘highlight’ your key message, make a point, create an atmosphere, and convey your message in such a way that your audience will be engrossed in it. Consider which message or feeling you want to convey with your presentation. Select at least 3 points in your presentation where you ‘play’ with your intonation.


You don’t just listen with your ears, but also with your eyes. Especially if your audience can’t read your face in an online presentation, you will have to articulate more clearly. You don’t need to exaggerate, but by placing words further forward in your mouth you sound ‘closer’ and you will not have to talk loudly. This is also useful if you naturally have a soft speaking voice.

Vary in tempo

It’s not that you shouldn’t talk fast. The art is to change your speaking tempo now and again. This makes your presentation more dynamic. If you are discussing complex subject matter or make a key point, it is beneficial to slow down. If you then follow this with an example or easy to digest information, you can increase your tempo again.

Include enough and well-timed pauses

Your audience needs time to process information. So, if you continue talking without pausing, you will not be able to convey your message to your audience. Therefore, pause for about 3 seconds after stating your key message, an important argument or a concluding statement. Plan these pauses ahead of time and practice them. If you master this your words will have more weight and you will appear more self-assured.

Putting it into practice

Great tips, but how can you learn this? Watch and learn from other good speakers. TED talks, press conferences, podcasts, television presenters are a source of inspiration. Analyse fragments using the elements above. What is the speaker doing? How does this affect you as a listener? And what fits your style? Follow this up with practice. Try out new things and record yourself! You may feel that you are often exaggerating, but if you listen to your recording you may come to the conclusion that you have not ‘exaggerated’ enough. The more you practice, the more natural this will feel. And when you reach that point, you will not only control the content of your message, but also your audience.


Would you like to develop your (online) presentation skills? Register for the course Presenting with confidence.