It’s a tough challenge and it’s getting tougher – how do you capture the attention of your audience during a presentation or media interview and retain it? Our attention spans are notoriously becoming shorter than ever.
One of the things that participants always ask for during our presentation training and media training courses is some useful techniques to engage their audiences. Based on our experience of providing presentation training and media training for lawyers, hotel groups and fashion companies in and around London (among others), here are three useful ways to attract and retain the attention of your audience. Some are best if you’re in a room delivering a presentation while others are also good for those occasions when you’re doing a TV interview.
We might not remember key marketing messages or overarching concepts, but we do remember stories. During our presentation courses we sometimes ask the participants to put their hands up if they’ve never heard or never told a story. Funnily enough, over the last 22 years, no hand has ever gone up.
We tell stories everyday because they’re the way in which human beings communicate. That’s why they’re such a great way of engaging your audience during a presentation or a media interview. Think about it – outside a meeting room or a media interview situation if someone asks you to explain something, your natural inclination is very often to say “For instance…” or “Just imagine…”
Tell someone a fact and one or two areas of their brains will light up. However, when we hear a story up to seven sections click into action. They might include the ones that deal with vision, with spatial dimensions or with taste and smell. The result is that the message is anchored more effectively in our brains and our memories. Not only that, but scientists have discovered that very often the same areas of the brains of both storyteller and audience light up at the same time as they develop empathy with each other – something that’s essential in any good presentation or media interview.
Stories are a way of proving and illustrating a key message and this is more effective than simply telling your audience. You can claim that your organisation is innovative or that you offer great customer service, for instance, but tell us a story and you show us – and showing is more convincing than merely telling.
Make sure that your stories are relevant to your audience and their experiences and that they include the all-important human factor. Good stories also feature surprises and interesting twists to keep your audiences listening. Within our presentation skills training, we also look at the importance of creating a strong narrative drive to your presentation.
Stories that have a personal element are even more powerful. We’re not asking you to stand up on stage and bare your soul or tell a journalist about every aspect of your life, but your own story often has a role to play. We worked with the CEO of a large construction company who told some great stories about his experience as a hod-carrier. There was also the boss of a luxury hotel chain who talked about spending time in the kitchens or in reception to really understand the business that they were going to be leading. They told funny, deprecating and very revealing stories.
But we also worked with both – and with many others – to ensure that their stories had a point. We advise people during our presentation and media training courses to think “story then point”, or even, “point, story, point.” In other words, it’s essential to explain why you’re telling the story and to be clear on the takeaway for the audience.
It’s the spice of life – and it’s also extremely useful in presentations and media interviews. One of the main reasons why audience’s minds wander and they switch off and start to think about what they’re going to have for dinner, for instance, or why that person two rows in front of them thought it would be a good idea to choose that colour combination, is that the presentation is monotonous.
A lack of variety in both content and delivery sounds the death knell of a good presentation. It might be just a few minutes long but there’s plenty of time during a broadcast media interview for your audience switch off mentally, if not physically.
During a presentation you can tell people things and you can tell people things. You can then tell them some more and keep telling them. But that’s boring. You need to surprise people, to shake it up a bit. We sometimes talk about “slap and tickle” during our presentation courses. This means that you might challenge your audience a bit and then flatter them. You might even scare them at some point but then make them laugh at others.
Watch Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech for some good examples of what we all also call “poke ‘em and stroke ‘em.” He talks about Stanford being the finest college but then warns them that sooner or later they’ll become beyond their sell-by date and that death is “life’s change agent.”
A good presentation includes some warm, human anecdotes and some gentle humour alongside some visionary statements and ideas about the big picture. Our professional speechwriting experts can advise on knowing what to put where within our media training course.
It’s not just what you say that needs variety and contrast, it’s how you say it. This means including a range of different delivery styles. Depending on what you’re saying at some point you might sound friendly and chatty. At other moments, when you’re doing the vision thing, you’ll slow your pace, pause more and add extra emphasis. You might speak more quickly and address someone in the second row when you’re telling a joke or making a minor point. Then you could pause to allow a point to sink home or add drama after posing a rhetorical question.
Depending on the venue (and we always advise people to get into the room before they’re due to speak) you might want to stand at the lectern to set out your key message but then move to another part of the stage to signal a change of tone and approach. Using a variety of props and AV such as videos or music also help to add the kind of variety that will grab hold of your audience.
Peggy Ramsey, the famous literary agent once said that good drama is about: “little surprises followed every now and again by a bigger surprise.” The same is true of a good presentation or media interview.
Add some interaction
Why are presentations so often boring and why do they cause audiences to switch off, while conversations are much less likely to?
One of the reasons is that during a conversation we know that at any moment there’ll be an opportunity or even a requirement for us to contribute. Have you ever been in that embarrassing situation when someone you’re talking to suddenly asks you a question and you realise that you’ve drifted off? Oops!
A presentation isn’t a conversation and you can’t chat to each person unless it’s a very small meeting. However, you can still signal to the audience that they’re going to be invited to contribute. We often suggest during our presentation training courses that presenters start with a question. A simple “Hands up if…” or “Let’s see a quick show of hands…” can energise the room. If you’re struggling with that post lunch spot or the last slot of the day – or the first, for that matter – getting people to stand up increases the physical element and grabs attention.
You can also do this during the presentation itself. Warning your audience that you’ll come back to them on this question or topic will help to increase the chances of keeping them with you. Depending on the size of the audience you can also throw a question more casually every now and then while you talk.
Although you can’t expect audience participation during a media interview you can still involve your audience. This will include thinking about what will be relevant to them. You can point up a problem and then offer a solution. Advice to make them more successful and effective at work, to help them to be healthier or generally to make their lives better always works well. And because it’s directly relevant to the audience, it’s very likely that the interviewer will let you talk.
Also, as we explain during our media training courses, in an interview with a journalist, using the second person is another simple but effective way of grabbing and holding the attention of your audience. Rather than referring to “they” and “them,” nameless, faceless strangers, you’re addressing the audience directly. Talking about “you” sounds natural, direct and conversational.
Capturing a crowd whoever they are and wherever they might be requires thought, preparation and practice. However, by following these simple tips you’ll be well on your way to grabbing and holding their attention.
Still unsure about ways to engage your audience?
Our Communicate Media specialists have years of experience in speechwriting, delivering presentations and handling media interviews. Learn more about our bespoke media training courses or if you would like more information on how to book contact us here.