Know Who (Or What’s) To Blame For Your Audience’s Attention Deficit?

All of us have so much data being thrown our way every single day. In 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated that every two days we create as much information as we did up to 2003—5 million gigabytes. And by 2013 that much data was being created every two minutes!

That’s one reason our audience has a hard time paying attention when we present. The other, is a lesser known system of the brain called the Reticular Activating System or RAS for short.

What’s The Reticular Activating System?

Back in 2012, Scott Aughtmon (a good friend) wrote a brilliant guest blog post for the Content Marketing Institute titled 6 Ways to Create Content that Catches Attention. This is where I was first introduced to the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and I must share this insight with you.

The RAS helps us focus on certain things while filtering out the rest.

Scott explains the phenomenon that occurs when we buy a new car—suddenly noticing that same car everywhere—is our RAS shifting from what we used to ignore (that car model) when we thought it wasn’t important to something we now care very much about. We suddenly see what was always there!

Why This Matters When Presenting

The RAS either makes or breaks attention. Because of this, it is crucial in directing and maintaining audience attention. Our goal as a speaker and presenter is to captivate the audience in order to impart our wisdom and move them to action.

To achieve this, we must direct each audience member’s RAS to consciously pay attention. It can either be our friend or our foe. So how can this seemingly impossible task be mastered?

Taming The RAS For Maximum Attention

The secret to breaking through the RAS and grabbing audience attention is actually very simple—when utilizing a few of the tactics I’m about to share.

We can short circuit the RAS by changing three things…

  1. Our presentation delivery: vary tone, speed, volume, movement, gestures, topic-related visual images, tell an engaging and relevant story, and ask questions that elicit audience thinking and pause for a few seconds to allow them time for consideration.
  2. Our presentation activities: one of the 5 Brain Dead Simple Books About Presentation Brain Science that I recommend, The Ten Minute Trainer, offers over 100 exercises and activities that engage audiences and explains the research behind how these activities break through the RAS. There’s also some easy activities described in 6 Practical Tips For Getting And Keeping Audiences Engaged
  3. Our presentation environment: change how the seating is arranged, cluster seating to invite interactive dialogue, provide helpful resources to reference during the presentation (like a graphic organizer), provide small snacks that awaken the senses (Hershey Kisses work great).

Yep, That’s It

I know it’s brain science, but it doesn’t have to be complicated! These are simple and subtle changes, but they are powerful and impactful. Don’t over think it, just try them out and see what happens. Good luck.


How do you plan to specifically use this newfound knowledge? Share your answer on Twitter or Facebook.


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