Even the most patient and considerate audiences find it very difficult to stay focused on one person talking for an hour, especially if the speaker isn’t particularly dynamic and stays firmly planted behind a lectern.
I’m an animated comedian with a message, so it’s a lot easier for me to keep their attention than it is for the typical speaker who isn’t a professional jokester. There are lots of other ways to keep your audience transfixed on you, however, and I would strongly recommend that you put some time and effort into finding ways that work for you. Your objective should be to keep them interested not only in what you’re saying, but what they’re seeing and the performance value of your presentation, otherwise you’ll start seeing the tops of a lot of heads as they find something more entertaining on their iPhones.
One technique that I frankly think is a necessity is getting out from behind that lectern and walking and talking. No, walking isn’t a particularly fascinating activity, but add a few gestures, hold up a few props, even mime an action like playing ping pong or driving or sawing a board, and you are at the very least breaking a dull pattern and creating some visual interest that a talking head behind a lectern will never achieve.
At a conference of Emergency Medical Services folks recently, one of the other presenters punctuated her message with some absolutely riveting audio recordings of dispatchers saying exactly the right thing to calm very distressed callers. In the theatre of our minds, the drama was totally compelling.
Without even knowing your field of expertise, I can declare with certainty that every group you ever speak to is going to love to laugh. That single, basic fact of life has allowed me to enjoy a very fulfilling, lucrative and entertaining career, and will pay off for you if you take advantage of it. I’d strongly recommend that you find at least half a dozen opportunities in your presentation to either make them laugh or delight them with a human story of some kind that might have only a tenuous link to the subject matter. A medical professional describing a new protocol might illustrate it with an interesting or entertaining anecdote: “A colleague of mine had an elderly patient who absolutely refused to take his advice on this, so he found a way to make her think it was her idea. One day, he…”
As soon as he/she starts the story, the audience is transfixed. “Once upon a time” has worked for thousands of years because humans love stories.
If it gets a laugh, all the better. That same medical presenter might have fifty highly technical slides to show. A smart presenter might take the opportunity to lighten the mood with half a dozen irrelevant (or even irreverent!) but very funny photos of cats, dogs, or silly humans. If nothing else, a speaker could justify the chuckle break by making the point that the act of laughing sends a little shot of feel-good chemicals into our brains, with the added advantage of keeping us awake! Be sure to read my blogs about the Do’s and Don’ts of PowerPoint and How to Create Killer Icebreakers.
Entertain and delight them while you deliver your message and I guarantee you’ll collect fans, admirers, and BOOKINGS a heckuva lot quicker than you will with just your message.