We live in a world where everything is in front of our eyes at the click of a button. Our brains have grown impatient with the prospect of patience. Given any scenario, we look forward to quick solutions – “Hope I get there quickly”, “I don’t want any traffic”, “Do it online; you will avoid standing in the line”. It’s almost like we have lost the art of spending time doing just about nothing. In such a world, if you are a training then asking you to discover ways to engage your audience is like instructing you to give children a cake, but ask them not to eat it until the party starts!
A complete horror! Although it usually does take a Mark Anthony to really grasp a group of people’s attention, there are a few tips you can try to keep your audience from leaving you on a cruise of reverie.
Cut it short
Like we mentioned in the beginning, people today need everything in a jiffy. They don’t have patience for background stories. Therefore, come to the point first as this is one of the best and tried-and-tested ways to engage your audience. However, make sure that you do it in a manner that captivates your audience. Make it quirky or do it as if you are giving them a teaser of what is to come. When you do that, your audience’s impatience level goes down. They, in fact, pay more attention to capture what is going to come next. As consumers of content, we are just not used to trawling through 1,500 words to find out the latest news headlines. Therefore, think from the audience’s perspective and tailor your speech accordingly.
Visual and speaker harmony
We humans, are visual creatures and nothing grabs our attention more than a sensory experience with visuals. If, what you are saying, matches what you are showing, people tend to stay attentive. This should definitely make it to your strategies or ways to engage your audience. Try to go a little further and add images to your presentation which are not directly linked to your topic, but vaguely similar or relatable. People like a little play with what they are presented with.
When we train people at their workplace, for their organization, and on a topic chosen by their organization for them, it is best to speak to them at a personal level. Begin with stories of your own where you have learnt something through an experience. If you don’t have one, make one! People love listening to stories. Take a step further and ask people for their life stories and experiences. This makes them connect with the topic, your session, and the entire experience on a personal level. It’s a sure shot way to stay in your audience’s mind!
Don’t follow a pattern
Remember the age old funda of following a similar pattern in terms of structure in the slides in your presentation? Well, it doesn’t work! If you give your brain a pattern that it is expecting, it leads to boredom. To keep your audience at the edge of their chairs, break the pattern. Give them things they don’t expect. Throw stories at them, make them enact certain forbidden roles, and get them out of their comfort zones.
Pull the threads
Recurring themes, ideas, and characters help things to stick in our minds and keep us engaged. This is why in our sales presentations we add a value proposition that shows the key benefits as well as progress through the presentation. The fact that we keep repeating it makes the points easier to remember. While you can apply this to a lot of different aspects of sales presentations, this is particularly useful for training and e-learning content. Repeating ideas, pulling familiar threads, and showing how different circumstances affect a recurring character will help give your audience something familiar to latch on to. Introduce them to an idea or a character and associate subsequent explanations with them to make your presentation easier and shorter.
Understand your audience. Let me repeat: Try and understand your audience. Learn what they have experienced, what their work environment is like, what the people at their workplace are like. Now, use this information to make associations for them. When people associate new things to the old ones, they learn ten times faster. The association technique is actually the one we have been using since childhood at schools. As a trainer, it is your duty to understand what your audiences’ Apple is and associate that with ‘A’.
It is a fact that our attention span is getting shorter by the day and as a general rule, we don’t show interest in anything that takes longer to express or read than a 140-character long tweet. Many presenters have tried to change the audience’s mindset and failed. Acknowledge that they probably can’t cope with information overload. So, don’t try and train them otherwise. You need to always keep on your toes for there are, but a few ways to engage your audience.
If you’re trying to be an attention span evangelist then you will most likely turn off your audience. Adapt your content to the needs of your audience to make it relevant, well-presented, and consumable in bite-sized chunks.