What can you do to engage their attention and leave them hungry for more?
Here are my top 10 recommended attention-grabbing techniques.
- Command the stage
You can recognise a great speaker in micro-seconds by the way they occupy their physical space. A confident stroll to the microphone, a warm smile taking in the entire audience, and brief but telling pause before your first carefully crafted utterance will have them hanging on your next words.
- Start with a story
Humans are hard-wired to respond to stories, which predate the written word as a form of communication. While overt key messages leave us cold, stories with implicit messages enthral, compel and move us. For maximum impact your story should be brief, punchy and highly relevant to your topic. Don’t start with: ‘I’d like to tell you a story’. Just tell it. And let the story speak for itself without spending too much time drawing out the key message at the end.
- Ask a provocative question
There’s no better way of commanding attention than asking a question to which a response may be required. One of my colleagues starts her presentation (on presentation skills) by asking how many people love giving presentations, and then picks on individuals to find out why they do – or don’t – love them. I often start my own presentations by asking who feels nervous at the prospect of speaking in public. A minority don’t raise their hands and I then point out that we must have some liars in the room since, as Mark Twain famously remarked: ‘There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars’. It never fails to raise a laugh, which is another way to get your audience on side.
- Set out your big idea
Encapsulate your main theme in an intriguing little nutshell like business strategist Knut Haanaes in his TED talk on business failure. http://bit.ly/1RPSTb8 ‘There are two reasons companies fail: they only do more of the same or they only do what’s new.’
- Tell your audience what’s in it for them
Unsurprisingly, most audiences are a great deal less interested in what you want to tell them than in what they have to gain from listening. If you can make this clear from the start you will motivate them to stick around for the final reveal.
- Cite a relevant quotation
Another of my colleagues, keen to stress that presentations must be targeted to the specific needs and interests of audiences, likes to quote communications expert Ken Haemer’s advice that ‘Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it: To Whom It May Concern’. Two rules about quotations: first, they must make your key point more pithily and wittily than you could in your own words; secondly, they are best used sparingly. Too many quotes and you sound like a ventriloquist’s dummy.
- Reference a gobsmacking fact or statistic
I was once training an international group of pharmaceutical company executives on how to talk about heart disease. One of them, from Germany, came up with the amazing statistic that more people die of heart disease in Germany every year than the total numbers killed in World War 2. Apple used to brag that more iphones were sold in the previous fiscal quarter than babies born in the entire world. I can’t attest to the factual accuracy of these statements, but they do make you sit up and think ‘wow, really?’
- Show a dramatic image
There is a lot of truth in the old saw that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. The ‘picture superiority effect’ tells us that concepts are more memorable if they are presented as pictures than as words. http://bit.ly/1yOFHZQ Equally importantly, pictures don’t compete with words. So while it is self-defeating to talk while displaying wordy slides (because people can’t read and listen at the same time) a powerful relevant image serves to complement and enhance the listening experience.
- Use a physical prop
You see props used in TED talks to memorable effect. There’s the one where neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor uses a real brain, complete with dangling spinal column, to illustrate her description of the different functions of the two cerebral hemispheres. http://bit.do/7qZN And the one where philanthropist Bill Gates looses a swarm of (harmless) mosqitoes into the audience when talking about the battle to conquer malaria. http://bit.ly/2iCUNyT
- articulate the problem your audience is facing – and the benefits of solving it
People are motivated either to move away from pain or towards pleasure. If you can paint a graphic picture of the current pain your audience is suffering from as a result of a shared problem and the pleasure that would arise from alleviating it, you’ll tick both boxes and keep your audience hooked in to the end.
How Clearsay can help
Clearsay Communications works with professionals from all sectors to improve their spoken communication skills for use in presentations, media interviews and meetings of all kinds. To find out what we could do for you, return to the Home Page.