By Fran Pruyn, CRSA Director of Marketing and Business Development
I have the attention span of a gnat. And I am not alone. We’re listening to an engineer explain something about the boiler in the building at the university. The guy sitting to the right of me is checking his Facebook feed. The woman sitting to the left of me has drawn a beautiful butterfly on her notepad. Not sure about the fellow across the table from me. He might be spellbound, or he might be dazed. I am writing this blog.
What does it take to keep everybody’s interest, especially when you are giving a “talk”?
Well, first, you need to know that you can’t.
Michael Kane, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, sampled the thoughts of students at eight random times a day for a week. He found that about 30 percent of the time they were not thinking what they were doing. It was 80 to 90 percent of the time for time for some students. Only one person out of 126 participants said that his mind wasn’t wandering any of the eight times. [Read more here…]
Okay, so given this uphill battle, what is it going to take to get past all the clutter that is surfacing behind the your audience’s bland expressions? Here are a few tips:
Pick an interesting subject. Boilers are not inherently interesting to the general population. So if you really must talk about one, a) talk to mechanical engineers who care, or b) tell people how this boiler relates to them: it isn’t working, and so people are cold, or it isn’t efficient, so it is going to consume lots of energy, which is going to cost them a lot of money. If you are stuck with the boiler talk, then best to keep it short.
Stick to the basics, and don’t get too specific. Did you ever listen to something you didn’t understand? How long did it take you to tune out? Once you are lost, then you politely start thinking about lunch. Most detailed descriptions of anything—anything—are hard to follow, especially if you are uninitiated. If you don’t believe me, try to follow your brother-in-law give you the play-by-play of the last episode of “Survivor”.
Tell a story. Again, pick an interesting subject. It is the uncommon designer who can engage an audience with the dramatic inner workings of the Mueller Model D-120. But people remember stories. It should be about people, but it should have some relationship to the basic topic.
Don’t rely the visuals. If your talk isn’t interesting than likely your graphics aren’t either. Write your speech, then make your PowerPoint. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that your speech is the PowerPoint. The images illustrate your point.