Tension might not be good to have in your neck but it’s very good to have in a presentation. Tension is the feeling of discomfort we get when we are caught between two opposing forces and want a resolution. It’s the desire to close the space between where we are and where we want to be or bridge the gap in our knowledge. Tension is the invisible force that compels us to click ‘next episode’ when the show leaves us on a cliffhanger.

When you create tension you make people uncomfortable, and when people are uncomfortable they want to do some thing about it. Create the right kind of tension in a presentation and you’ll have everyone leaning in on the edge of their seat waiting for the resolution. 

In the first few moments of your presentation you have the ability to lift the level of engagement in the room by creating healthy tension. Healthy tension is the gentle force that pulls people towards a desired end state. Here’s three ways you can do it:  

  1. Raise the level of pain– Highlight the problemsso people want to change something. If you have a practical solution, take time to help people understand the real problem.
  2. Raise the level of curiosity– Highlight the questionsso people want to know something. If you want to educate people or give people an answer, then start by helping them ask the right question.
  3. Raise the level of expectation– Highlight the visionso people want to be something. If you want to take people somewhere, paint a picture of what the future could look like if they decide to listen and contrast it with their current reality. 

Great communication – like great music – is an art of tension and release, we need both. Don’t spend time solving a problem that nobody has. Don’t spend time answering a question that nobody is asking. Don’t spend time describing a future that nobody wants. Take the time to understand and build healthy tension rather than just pushing the resolve. Get it right and you’ll move people from sitting back in their seat – waiting to be impressed – to leaning in on the front of it, hanging on your every word.