October 3, 2009

Engagement Skills – How to Hold Your Audience Attention

Recently, while providing a corporate training for the top sales agents in a large pharmaceutical company, I asked the following question:

“Have you ever been speaking, and you look out into your audience and see ‘screen saver eyes’?  You know – that glassy-eyed look that let’s you know you’ve lost their attention?”

They all laughed and nodded in agreement!

If you’ve ever seen “screen saver eyes,” the two most important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What did you do to lose them?
  • How do you get them back?

This is an age-old problem. It is made worse by the need to teach vast volumes of information in short periods of time, and even more compounded by one of the most dangerous technological breakthroughs in history: PowerPoint!

Don’t you think PowerPoint is inappropriately named? Shouldn’t it be called WimpyPoint? PowerPoint has no power at all. The speaker has power. PowerPoint is a visual aid. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of intelligent audience members have been lulled into sleep by the fourth slide. Why?

Many speakers put almost every word of their presentation onto slides and then read them. It’s as if the speaker has relinquished his intelligence and memory to the slide show.  The entire presentation is on the slides.  Here’s what I have learned:

  • Overly wordy slides are boring
  • No eye contact is boring
  • Not speaking extemporaneously is boring

If you must use PowerPoint, or if PowerPoint serves a specific purpose in your presentation, you can find more advice and tips in my eArticle: Powerful PowerPoint That Doesn’t Steal the Spotlight.

If you’re guilty of losing your audience’s attention it’s because you’re not stimulating their whole brain. People lose interest when all you do is deliver content, without making it interesting or stimulating. In other words, when you speak from your left logical brain to their left logical brain, you are simply delivering content – disseminating information – and that is boring.

People want stimulation. Right and left brain stimulation. Whole brain stimulation.  They want an experience!

We are all stimulation junkies. We want action. You know what I mean: lights, sound, action! Like in the movies. If you can make any part of your presentation like a movie, (auditory, visual and kinesthetic), and make your movie relevant, you will regain their attention.

How can you make a movie? Tell a story. Stories are inherently auditory, visual and kinesthetic. They activate the listener’s movie screen – their imagination – and engage their attention.

One of the primary principles of The Story Theater Method and the Dynamite Speech System is that you can’t teach anything if you don’t have people’s attention.

The bottom line is not about teaching – it’s about attention. It’s not about delivering content – it’s about engaging people so they care enough about what you’re saying to listen.

There are a number of ingredients that a story must have for it to engage someone’s attention and live up to its promise as an interesting mini-movie. They are:

  • A clear and easy-to-follow narrative that flows logically forward
  • Interesting characters that we can relate to
  • Real life situations that we can relate to
  • An obstacle or problem that must be dealt with for a successful outcome
  • Drama (tension) and possibly comedy (release of tension)
  • Resolution
  • A relevant point (lesson learned or moral of the story)

As you choose your stories, choose them strategically to fit the situation or topic you are speaking on. They must fit seamlessly into the speech or training. If they are simply used for filler, they may seem like a waste of time. Make every moment in front of your audience count.

Once you have identified a story that makes the point you need to make, craft it using my Nine Steps of Story Structure template. Then memorize and rehearse it out loud and on your feet. Don’t make the mistake of practicing sitting down or by going over it in silence in your head. You must hear it and “physicalize” it for it to come alive.

To study Doug Stevenson’s  Story Theater Method, purchase his book and audio Six Pack or study with him in person by attending a 4 person Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs. If you’re interested in hiring Doug to present a keynote or workshop for your company or association, call Deborah Merriman at 719-573-6195 or visit www.storytelling-in-business.com.

The Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs

The Story Theater Method

Presentations Skills and Storytelling Products and Packages


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