There’s one big error we all make that I’m about to explain how to avoid. Once you understand this, people will derive enormous benefit because you held their attention for the full duration of your talk.
A Conference In Dallas
It was a hot August day in Texas when I walked into an overly air-conditioned room at the Dallas Convention Center during an annual association conference. Arriving several minutes late, I found a seat somewhere in the middle of the room while the speaker gave very concise instructions to attendees.
Immediately, there was a roar of discussion between individuals seated next to one another in the room. I thought to myself, “What the heck did I just join”?
For the remainder of that 75-minute session, I was blown away—thrilled and excited to learn fascinating things. It hit me square on the chest and I loved every minute of it. The entire audience was drawn into the speaker’s content because he knew exactly how to hold our interest.
Here’s One Critical Thing He Understood…
1. We don’t pay attention during a lecture. Research has shown that the lecture, aka “a dump of information”, is quite literally the worst way to receive content. We cannot retain, interact, or engage with it. The research of James Hartley and Ivor Davies revealed that in the first seven minutes of a lecture, all were engaged. Shortly after that window of time, attention dropped and plateaued for the next forty minutes. Don’t make the mistake of doing a brain dump. Ponder how to create small moments between 7-10 minute chunks of content that allow the audience to stop, pause, and think for a while. Avoid the lecture!
Here’s Two Additional Things He Understood…
2. Television and mobile devices have ruined our attention. Fast-paced, short-length information segments have conditioned us all. We also have full control over when we engage with that information. Find it boring? With the push of a button or the swipe of a finger, we’re onto the next thing that might hold our gaze. Outlining a presentation in ways that take this fact into account will help hold audience attention. Think like a TV exec programming a prime time lineup. Break up content into digestible chunks and increase audience involvement.
3. When we talk, we learn. By verbally explaining what we just learned with a fellow audience member (between those 7-10 minute segments), we process information faster by putting it into our own words. This aids in long-term retention. In her book Brilliance by Design: Creating Learning Experiences That Connect, Inspire, and Engage—Vicki Halsey explains, “Active involvement with concepts—versus passive listening—enhances learning and application.” When a dialogue occurs, there’s an opportunity for feedback. Misinterpretations and misconceptions can be clarified, which leads to a deeper understanding.
Engaged Audiences Will Give You Their Time
Keep the three insights above in focus when planning presentations and you’ll sidestep the gigantic mistake 99% of us make. Don’t lecture. Instead, create a dialogue around your message. Passive listeners will only give you 7-10 minutes of attention. Engaged audiences will stay with you for 30, 45, 60, or even 75 minutes.
Uh, So What Did The Speaker Do?
Now, perhaps you’re wondering exactly what the speaker at the Dallas Convention Center did that captivated us for 75 minutes. You can likely guess that it involved short content segments and interactive discussions—and you’d be right.
In my post titled 6 Practical Tips For Getting And Keeping Audiences Engaged, I breakdown 6 very specific techniques he utilized and show you how to implement them yourself. You can read that here.