January 10, 2012

Does your audience have a reason to listen for another minute?



I read this great quote in an article called "What Business Really Thinks of the MBA," about what students are missing in current business school education.

In the book, "Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads," an executive who was interviewed said:

"Students fail to deliver the important message up front. I'm often asked to review their five-minute pitch for a business plan, but after the first minute they still haven't given me a reason to listen for the next four."

Is this not true of every presentation? Sure, the audience is paying attention to you when you start your presentation; they've got no choice, really, unless you are so quiet and low-key that they literally do not realize you've begun. Otherwise, they're looking at you, they're listening to you, and they're anticipating what comes next.

Unless...

Unless you don't give them a reason to get excited about what comes next. Unless your opening is so dull and uninteresting that they decide checking e-mail or Facebook is a better use of their time.

What you do in the first minute of your presentation just gets people to listen for the second minute. What you do in the fifth minute keeps them paying attention until the sixth minute. And what you do in the 27th minute keeps them hanging on till the 28th minute.

Engaging the audience is an ongoing prospect. It's not something you do one time and win them over for the whole hour. People's minds drift, they get distracted, they become engaged in their own thoughts. You must continue to read the audience, bring them back to your world, stimulate their emotions through stories, analogies, visuals, humor and conviction, make them feel like rock stars, let them see the real youconnect with and relate to them, and forget about perfection.

Here are a bunch more posts about engaging the audience. Remember that the first few minutes are still a critical period in your presentation, that set the stage for the rest of your time. But every minute of your presentation is an opportunity to keep the audience engaged for the next minute and the next and the next, until you've succeeded in creating a complete experience.

Some audience members will remember discrete moments of your presentation. Others will remember particular visuals, stories or laughter. But the more of these moments you can string together, the more the audience will take with them a whole picture of rewarding time spent with you.

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