What’s the biggest, most challenging problem faced by presenters?
Simple – listeners don’t pay attention for very long.
How long? On average, 8 seconds. That’s it. That’s all the time you have as a presenter to open up the mind your listener’s mind and keep it focused on what you have to say.
For the record, the same researchers who determined this fact found out that goldfish actually pay attention for nine seconds. That means that we have a shorter attention span than goldfish.
So as presenters, how can we “buy more time?” It comes down to the fact that you have to get and keep your listener’s attention. To begin, think of attention span like a window shade. When that shade is open, it allows bright sunlight to shine through. Now imagine that the window shade is completely closed. There’s no more sunlight, only a darkened room.
That window shade is just like attention span. When it’s open, attention is shining through. Everything your listener hears you say passes through. When their window shade closes, nothing you say gets through. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, the closed window shade blocks your ideas from entering your listener’s mind.
How long does it take for the window shade to close? You guessed it – 8 seconds. That’s all you have before your listener tunes you out. They may continue to look at you politely or their eyelids may droop, or they may read some texts, but as far as what you have to say, your words are falling on deaf ears because their window shade has closed.
But by bumping it back up, the higher window shade will continue to allow attention to flow right on through. Your listener will keep listening. How can you bump the window shade back up?
8 Ways to Hook Your Audience in 8 Seconds:
#1: Begin and end your presentation with a key point.
When designing your presentation, ask yourself “What’s the point I want to make?” Once you establish that point in your own mind, build your presentation around that point. The point should be clear, succinct, relevant, compelling, and worth remembering. It should make a difference to your listener. In fact, you should design your presentation from your Listener’s Point of View.
#2: Tell Your Listener Why She Should Listen To You In the First Place.
Your listener has a lot on her mind. She has bills to pay, kids to raise, issues at work, fun she wants to have. With all that on her mind, why should she listen to you? Unless you answer that question now, she won’t listen to you. Answer it, and you will bump up that window shade.
#3: Tell Your Listener Why He Should KEEP Listening.
Even if you convince your listener that he should put aside everything else he has on his mind, his pressing concerns will creep back into his awareness and take over his attention. He needs to know from you why he should keep listening. Tell him the details, paint some pictures, give him some evidence. Make it worth his while to keep listening.
#4: Explain What You Want Your Listener To REMEMBER.
What do you want your listener to remember right now? What do you want her to remember when she walks out of the room? What do you want her to remember tomorrow? What do you want her to remember six months from now? Unless you tell her very specifically, She will make her own decisions about what to remember.
# 5: Tell Your Listener What You Want Him To DO.
Just like telling him what you want him to remember, unless you tell him exactly what you want him to do, he’ll make his own decisions. To get him to the take action you want him to take, you need to tell him what to do.
#6: Make your Voice Sound Interesting.
How many times have you sat through a presentation delivered by someone speaking in a monotone? What happens to your window shade? The monotony of a boring voice does nothing to bump up the window shade. By contrast, think about a speaker who delivered a presentation with variety in their voice – subtle, but noticeable changes in loudness, tone, and timing including meaningful pauses. Deliver your presentation with the sparkle and vitality of vocal variety.
#7: Draw Your Audience into Your Visual Presence.
Use animated and descriptive gestures to help illustrate your point and drive it home. Lock eye contact on people rather than reading from your slides, staring at the floor, or spanning the room with a meaningless gaze. Engage people. Make them feel like they’re important by looking directly at one person at a time, even if only occasionally. Draw them into your presentation with your gestures and eye contact.
#8 Tell Compelling Stories that Begin and End with a Point.
Stories can be entertaining and fun. But without a point to guide your listeners, they won’t know why you told the story and in what ways the story can make a difference to them. For example, I could tell you a story about how a professor who intended to email his teaching assistant and within the email berated several students in his class. But instead of sending the email to his teaching assistant, he mistakenly sent it to one of the students he berated. A compelling story? Yes. A memorable story? Yes. But imagine how much more useful the story would be if the “professor” story began and ended with this point: “When emailing or texting, take time to think very carefully before you press ‘send,’ because once you do you can never take it back.” Tell your listeners a story that drives your point home by beginning and ending with a point.
There you have them – 8 ways to hook your audience in 8 seconds. Choose any one of them and you will refresh and renew that 8 seconds into another 8 seconds and then another 8 seconds. While there’s nothing you can do to stop the window shade from falling, you have virtually unlimited power to bounce it back up to keep your listeners listening for as long as you want them to listen.
Goldfish can’t do that, but you can!