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June 9, 2008

The Art of Presenting – Part III

Rule # 2 – The Rule of Attention

Creating a strong presence in the room is a fantastic start, maintaining that presence throughout the speaking event is also great.

However, after gaining their attention how do you keep it?

I have found that keeping people’s attention revolves around three fundamental principles.
  1. Use what you have to best effect
  2. Tell engaging stories
  3. Innovative and eye catching visual aids
Use what you have

As a speaker, you have a number of tools that you nature has given you, as well as a range of technological tools that you can bring into the room with you. Employing all of this to provide a continually stimulating spectacle for the delegates in the room is challenging, but it will come over time.

Move it!

Movement is one of the key elements. This is not a church, you are not a priest, and this is not a sermon. It is a highly sought after educational / training / informational event, and you are the star of it.

You need to move deliberately, regularly and rapidly at times around the room. Do not move in a manic fashion, but make sure each movement has a reason. For example;

Using U-shaped tables where possible will enable you to walk near every single one of the delegates, and help you to build a personal rapport with each of them.

U-shaped rooms will also help you to deal with troublesome delegates, which we will not be dealing with here.

Using two flip charts, instead of the standard one flip chart, will enable you to move between them, and as you move, the delegates will focus on you.

Routines are imperative here. Flip charts are there to help you explain a point, and to delve further into detail at any point in time.

Nevertheless, they should also be a part of the choreographed routines that you run through.

If you are on a stage, in an auditorium, or in front of a very large group (say like in a hotel) then you need to make sure to move from one sole of the stage to the other, maybe forward and backward a bit. Do not just meander around looking lost. Walk deliberately and with purpose. (Check out Tom Peters in this video)

You can move quickly when necessary, you can even run if it is safe to do so. Just do not be manic, controlled, deliberate, and with purpose at all times.

The Voice

Your voice is another very powerful tool for gaining and holding peoples attention. Using it is not an easy of intuitive thing to do however, I have found. I think one of the most dramatic uses of the human voice I have heard was the I Have a Dream Speech. Even today, this speech gives me goose bumps, particularly the “Free at last…” refrain that he so expertly used at the end of it.

Some tips I have picked up over the years include the following:

Raise and lower the volume

Lowering the volume, while maintaining a very serious look on your face, can often draw people in to listen closer at what it is you have to say. Once they are all leaning in toward you (even if only with their senses) then a quick change in volume will very effectively punctuate a point you wish to make.

Speaking rapidly

Many of the things I speak about revolve around safety and the preservation of environmental integrity. (Sounds like riveting stuff don’t it.)

Therefore, when I am trying to emphasize the consequences of getting something wrong I run through them in a very rapid fashion.

The point is not that they learn all of the things that could go wrong, the point is so many things could go wrong that the point I am trying to make is obviously correct.

Short and long statements

Short, quick-paced statements can really help to motivate a crowd of people. It also creates the audible equivalent of motion, movement, and importance when used correctly.

Long sentences are always risky. People tend to get lost in them and they can serve to confuse the daylights out of people in the room sometimes.
When you need to summarize a recent routine of several hours, (say) they serve to place all of the killer points in one place at one time.

At no time is your voice about domination. It is always about communication, and it is always about creating a stimulating auditory environment for delegates.

When people talk about public speaking, they often tell you to try to project your voice. Today, you can get around most rooms with microphones and the like; however, there are still times when you need to be able to project your voice to fill a room.

I personally do not like microphones, and I have often filled ballrooms using just my voice from a standing start. Not yelling, but projecting. It is a skill in itself.

The Power of Words

Your voice is only as powerful as the words that it is using. If something is serious, then construct the phrase or the words to tell people about it.

I often deliver three-week courses aimed at training people to facilitate a very complex engineering methodology. The phrase I use is “the science of knowing it and the art of doing it” goes down well and they remember it for years afterwards.

When I want to get people to understand the dramatic impacts of getting engineering elements wrong I tell them they are the “thin line between industry and disaster”.

All very dramatic, but it makes the point and is remembered long after I am forgotten.
  • Be concise, don’t use 10 words when two will do
  • Be accurate, use words that they can relate to, executives appreciate strategic words, while tactical roles appreciate practical terms. (Not always but often)
  • Be dramatic, but do not over do it. Do not exaggerate at any time, ever.
Next AoP post – Telling stories and developing eye-catching visuals, a look at some of the effort that needs to go into constructing and delivering the overall story, and some of the techniques for using visuals to deliver it effectively.

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