What do you do once you have the Golden Snitch?
Excuse the Harry Potter reference, but it is an apt way of encapsulating what ‘attention’ is. Your audience is more than likely in front of you because they wish to surrender their ‘attention’ to you for a period of time. Providing you take good care of their investment and ensure that you give them value, insight and knowledge in an engaging manner.
People are probably told hundreds of life changing pieces of advice during their time on this planet. So why should they listen to what you spout?
I hope you answered that in your head with a defiant and self confident “because I am trying to help them!” You can try and help ten people and maybe one will be changed by your work. So how do you up the number from one to ten I hear you ask?
By catching and keeping their attention. Attention is pretty fleeting; and it can be focused when a person decides to invest it. It is down to you to capture this spark and then work the ember so it becomes a fully fledged flame. You are not stupid and neither are your audience, you know that in order to catch someones attention you need to interest them. So start with something interesting. A story, a fact, an anecdote; just about anything else that will be juicy to your audience. so they can’t resist but want to hear the rest of your talk. If you can offer this with an emotional and related connection, then even better. The human mind stores anything that has a an emotional connection as a priority over un-connected information. Anchor information into a persons mind with emotion, they will remember who said it, when they said it and what they FELT when heard it.
Once you have made your initial grab at the audiences attention, you owe it to them to hold up your part of the deal. Keep this momentum and attention by delivering your talk with passion and genuinely engaging content. If someone is nodding while you speak, their mind is agreeing with you and respects you. They aren’t directly saying “I understand what your saying Will”. Their body is leaking non-verbal cues, re-enforcing my words.
Don’t use shock tactics, unless you are trying to lobby the senate or congress into voting to go to war. You are not a Charlatan, present yourself and cause in a legitimate and professional tone, it will only let someone discredit you and/or your work. If you have to use shocking stories and images to present, ensure they are introduced and you caveat the reason for showing them. Legal presentations and cases are a prime example; a murder case is a deeply shocking affair. The use of explicit images and language are kept to a minimum and used only when they have to be. Take the high road unless you have to venture low for professional reasons.
So what do you use? images, stories, repetition and a central theme are all tools you can use in order to keep the audience engaged. You can’t keep your presentation racing at 100mph the whole way through, you need to give your audience a rest and let them digest what you have just given them. Images are ideal for that, they break the flow of the presentation nicely and give everyone a healthy pause. Stories give your talk a central structure in which to fix everything on to. Who doesn’t love a good story? Repetition is a more subtle way to get your point across, you can finish each part of your presentation and lead back onto your original premise or opening line, this makes people think more deeply and gives you more than one opportunity to push your audience to act. This is also like a sustained ‘call to arms’. instead of lobbying your audience at the end into rising up and executing what you have told them. Use repetition to gently ease them into it, then the call to arms big finish doesn’t have to be preachy and awkward. Go for a natural trajectory and finish.
The best advice I can give, like always is… You guessed it, test and tinker. Try and tweak new stuff and see what works for your style and your work. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what ingenious devices and tools you can incorporate.