Attention & Retention Made Simple

I have two simple tips for you that are not brain surgery, but they do come from a doctor whose research focuses on the brain.

For my upcoming book, I have been digging into attention spans – how they work and how long they last. After all, if we’re talking to people, we want to make sure we’re grabbing and holding onto their attention. One of the more interesting books I took a look at was “Brain Rules” by Dr. John Medina. Medina distills his research down to 12 “brain rules” and two of them caught my eye.

The first was that people don’t pay attention to boring things. We pay attention to things like emotions and threats. Hmmm, that’s probably why storytelling is so effective and also why being able to identify your audience’s “pain” works well to grab their attention!

The second was that people need repetition to remember. People need to be exposed and re-exposed to material you want them to retain. This is not at all surprising to those of us who can remember almost every advertising jingle from our childhood!

So, you see? These tips are not brain surgery. You know both of these little fun facts. But the question for you to ask yourself is, do you consider these facts when you speak and present? Do you check yourself for how boring/interesting your material is and ask yourself what you can do and how you can package it, to make it more compelling? Do you build in some repetition of the important tidbits you need your audience to remember?

I’ll leave the rest to you, but I just wanted to share some fun summertime food for thought!



Yep. That’s the tip of the month. Smile.

Smiling changes your delivery. It will put you at ease, and your audience will have more confidence in you – as well as a more favorable impression. Of all the body language tips I could give you, this one is quite possibly the best one. And the easiest.

So yep, just remember to smile. That’s all.

What Would George and Abe Do?

President’s Day is more than a day off from work or school. It’s when we remember the February birthdays of two of our early Presidents, both of whom were known for their honesty.

If honesty was part of what earned George and Abe their places in history, then we should probably take a page from their playbook for our own communications, right? But how do we do that? What would it mean to be “honest” in our communications beyond the obvious of telling the truth?

Here are 3 types of honesty you can apply to your communications – speeches, presentations, interviews with the media, or ordinary business conversations – that I bet would be endorsed by George and Abe:

    1. Transparency. Audiences are very discerning and can smell a phony within seconds. Be real; let people see you, let people see what’s happening. If you have good news, call it good news. If you have bad news, call it out as bad news. Spin (a self-interested selection of the facts) only goes so far. Be as open and forthright as possible.
    2. Self-Awareness. Is there an elephant in the room? Your situation might require an apology or an admission of wrong-doing before you can get an audience’s attention, let alone win its trust. Or perhaps you’ve being criticized and need to respond. In that case, you’ll want to be prepared to own the “criticisms” that also happen to be true. Very often, criticism is true and with good reason. Don’t automatically get hot under the collar when attacked. Reflect on yourself and then own it with confidence if it’s you and it’s true.
    3. Fairness. Intellectual honesty is a credibility win-win. If you have an opponent or a competitor, and you can be objective and fair about what you share in common as well as what differentiates you, then you will score big points with your audiences. Likewise, being willing and able to call out your friends and also applaud your enemies is a credibility-winner and reputation-booster.

These 3 tips are more nuanced versions of honesty than confessing to chopping down a cherry tree or walking miles at night to return pennies to a customer who overpaid, but they’re just as appealing. Give them a whirl!


Lessons from Carlos Danger

At a recent press conference, Anthony Weiner lost all control of reporters and resorted to begging them to listen to him. His 800-pound gorilla was off its leash and it started smashing everything in sight. Anthony just stood there helpless, losing complete control.
Running for mayor of New York, there is no doubt that Weiner has important issues he would like to talk about. Reform that would benefit the middle class, budgets, and maybe even new subway schedules, all were ignored. All because of a gorilla that has twice been national headlines and the butt of late night TV jokes.
Sure he had held a press conference to deal directly with the gorilla already, but like anyone who has poured cream into coffee, you can’t just separate things that easily once they’ve been mixed.
The press wanted to get comments on the more recent exploits of Carlos Danger, Weiner wanted to talk about the issues of his campaign. He was getting more and more agitated with every question, the press loved it. The more the press poked at the 800-pound gorilla, the crazier the whole scene became.
All Weiner had to do was acknowledge the gorilla, be willing to deal with it right up front, so he could then, and only then, redirect the reporters to what he wanted to talk about. Instead, Weiner tried to ignore the 800-pound gorilla, the reporters could see only the 800-pound gorilla, and, in the mess and frustration of all that, the 800-pound gorilla took center stage once again. Not exactly Anthony’s desired result.
If you have a distraction – a well-known issue, an obvious troubling situation, a persistent question – deal with it. First. Upfront. Right off the bat. If you don’t, the gorilla will get loose and destroy everything.

Quote of the Day

“Three things matter in a speech: who says it, how he says it, and what he says – and of the three, the last matters least.” 
– John Morley, British Politician

Facing Your Enemy

Well …
One thing we haven’t discussed here is the belligerent, hostile, or grandstanding audience. You know, the audience you are compelled to present to, but the same one that’s also poised and ready to take you down?!? Ugh, no fun.

Aside from being astutely aware of whether the Q&A section of your presentation has turned into an opportunity for members of your audience to make their own speeches (ahem, grandstanding!), I’d like to encourage you to get in touch with and remember these core principles of a leader’s voice:

Be brief. No one has less time, patience, and tolerance than an unfriendly audience, or an audience waiting for their turn to pounce. At least win their respect – and possibly their support? – by being crisp, clear, and to the point. It’s much easier to get annoyed with a rambler than with someone who is succinct.

Be transparent. If you have to share bad or controversial news with an audience, be open about it. Tell them right upfront that this may be hard, or that not everyone will agree, but that you’re hoping at least they’ll be more informed. If there’s an element of discomfort and you’re the messenger, call it out; don’t try to downplay it or hope that it will go away on its own.

Be gracious. Despite the sometimes overwhelming temptation to push back with a corresponding level of hostility or even belligerent defensiveness, don’t … nothing good can come from that. Stay in your most gracious self.  The dictionary definition of gracious is: courteous, kind, pleasant. Try to remain gracious, it’s the high road, you’ll be the bigger person.

Be sincere. Honest, yes, of course. But also sincere as a professional, sincere in your commitment and dedication to your work or your professional standards. People may not like what you have to say, but if you are sincere in your intentions to do right or do well, it can help a lot.

Leave the coat of armor at home, try brevity, transparency, graciousness, and sincerity!