September 27

A Wake-up Call for Presenters from The Ig Nobel Prize


Imagine being just two minutes into your presentation and someone in your audience announces, “Please stop, I’m bored.”

ig nobel prize
Prize winners have 1 minute to present before being interrupted by an 8 year-old saying, “Please stop, I’m bored.”

This is precisely what happens each year at the Ig Nobel’s ceremony at Harvard.  This much-anticipated awards ceremony honors the most unusual achievements in science, medicine and technology.  2016 winners included a Japanese team whose study concluded that “things look different when viewed from between your legs,” and a German team who discovered that “if you have an itch on one side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the opposite side of your body.” (I can’t wait to try this one out!)

The Ig Nobel Prize is put on by the Annals of Improbable Research to spur curiosity and help people decide for themselves what’s important and what’s not.  A decision that audiences do all the time during any presentation.

Like most things about the Ig Nobel ceremony, the presentations are unique.  Winners have just one minute to speak.  If they go over one minute, or become boring at any point, an eight-year-old girl is charged with putting an immediate stop to it. Whenever Miss Sweetie Poo, as she’s affectionately called, gets bored, she simply goes up to the speaker and loudly repeats: “Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.” Until they do stop.  How many boring presentations or meetings would be cut short if this standard were  embraced in business!

A Wake-up Call for Presenters

Of course you don’t have to worry about Miss Sweetie Poo (or this year’s “Human Alarm Clock”) interrupting your presentation.  And I am not going to suggest that you “dumb down” your presentation to appeal to an eight-year-old.  But as tongue-in-cheek as the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is, it has it’s finger on the pulse of a trend taking place in conference rooms, live and virtual offices across the world.  Audiences have a much lower tolerance for being bored or having their time wasted – and greater social permission for expressing that intolerance.  Consider this:

  • Nearly 15 years after being introduced to the concept of Death by PowerPoint, it is considered de rigueur for audiences to carefully scrutinize the length and quality of any slide-based presentation.
  • The mere sight of a bullet point list can send certain audience members straight to their smartphones.
  • In some industries, it is not uncommon for a business audience to request the presenter “not use slides” or “get right to the point.”

Presentation Fatigue

A wave of “presentation fatigue” has hit the business arena.  And it’s long overdue from an audience who has been exposed to hundreds, maybe thousands of presentations over their lifetime.  Show up with a message and a slide deck and you’re more likely to be met with a yawn than a, “I can’t wait to see what she’s got to say!”

This growing intolerance for being bored in the boardroom has implications for all presenters. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to keep your audience alert and engaged:

  1. Understand what drives attention, how often you need to regain that attention, and how to structure your presentation around it. Too often key messages fall on deaf ears because the presenter is not effectively managing the audience’s attention.
  2. It takes more to gain attention and differentiate yourself, your solution, and your company with today’s audiences. Your slide deck alone will not cure presentation fatigue. Don’t forget to use your other tools: your voice, body and staging to stand out.
  3. If your message is the same as everyone else’s, presentation fatigue will set in early and progress rapidly. Dump the company overview.  Make your topics customer-focused.  Start with a unique insight or story. Break the pattern if you want to maintain audience attention.
  4. Respect the clock. Start on time and end on time or early.  To do this, you need to know how to manage your time and your audience.  Taking time to answer questions is important, but poorly managed Q&A sessions can leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth.

Heed the Wake-Up Call

Business audience’s are still more likely to suffer in silence than shout out, “Please stop, I’m bored.”  But don’t confuse silence with approval.  Heed this wake-up call for presenters.  Make sure your presentation doesn’t drift into self-serving acceptance speech territory and lasts just long enough to achieve its purpose.

Here’s one last discovery from annals of the Ig Nobel Prize winners:

 People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.

Go figure!



attention spans, audience engagement, presentation skills

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