Recently, the Microsoft Corporation conducted research to determine how technology was affecting humans. One of the things they found was that the human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. What does that mean? It means our fight as presenters who aim to captivate our audiences is getting a whole lot harder. But there are some powerful weapons we can wield in this battle against decreasing attention spans.
Many times monotony is what bores an audience into diverting their attention elsewhere. Humans are drawn to what is new, different, moving, or changing. That means that variety is the archnemesis of monotony. Change the pitch and tone of your voice to avoid being monotone. Vary the rate of your speech so that it catches the audience’s attention. Make use of pauses and “shock” your audience with silence when they aren’t expecting it. Change the volume of your voice. All of these vocal tools will help keep the audience interested and engaged. But be careful; vocal variety can become comical or feel contrived, so practice making subtle changes.
Words illuminated by a neon yellow highlighter stand out on a black and white page, and you can use this same concept in speaking. By simply telling the audience that you want them to pay attention, it will illuminate what you say next. It sounds something like this: I want to make sure you catch this important information, or I feel like some people might have missed what I just said, and I really want to be sure everyone hears this, or If you don’t catch anything else I say today, make sure you catch this. Granted, you want them to listen to all parts of your presentation, but if you can use verbal cues to highlight the most important things you say, you’ll make sure to grab attention when it’s the most crucial. Do keep in mind, however, verbal highlighters should be used sparingly. Don’t use more than two or three in a presentation because if everything is highlighted, nothing is.
A study in the UK found that people switched between devices including cell phones, tablets, and laptops 21 times during an hour. In addition, 95% of those people also had the television on during that hour. If humans are increasingly adept at switching between media, it stands to reason that presenters who are able to speak that multi-media “language” have a better chance of communicating with their audience. Find ways to incorporate graphics and pictures and sound into your presentation. This doesn’t mean you should sporadically throw in irrelevant memes or asides; it means you should think about using various media, aside from spoken words, to help communicate your message via other channels. Get into the habit of asking, is there another form of media that would be pleasing to my audience that I can use to communicate this message effectively?
Our eyes are involuntarily drawn to movement. That’s why many web advertisements have movement built in. We can’t help but to look at them. As speakers, we can make use of this natural pull to movement by creating presentations that involve thoughtful movement in our presentation media, our graphics, as well as our body language. When speakers move out and away from a podium, we find them more engaging. Because they aren’t stationary, our eyes have more to look at and process, and this continued movement as they present captures and holds our attention.
Every time something in your presentation changes, whether it’s your voice or the screen or your body language, you catch your audience’s attention again. Your job as a presenter is to craft moments of change throughout your presentation so that you capture the audience’s attention at the beginning and hold it until the end. It’s a battle that is getting tougher, but it’s a battle worth fighting.
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