When you get up to talk or take the microphone at an event, it is not, and should not, be all about you—not if you want to be effective, impressive, and memorable, that is. There is an unwritten, unspoken contract with your audience that you, the speaker, will entertain, enlighten, or energize them. Personal stories need to support a point. The time you take needs to be used to deliver something of value. An audience waits for something new, useful, beneficial, or fun. Audiences like to be acknowledged somehow. In order to deliver on any or all of this, you must prepare your remarks with your audience’s experience in mind. That is the essence of being audience-centric.
Audiences all have biases, self-interests, and expectations. They have a very basic “what’s in it for me?” thread running through their subconscious. They want something in exchange for their time and attention. As if that weren’t enough, they also don’t want to work hard. Unless you guide them and tell them where you’re taking them, they won’t make the connections and get there on their own. To make matters slightly more challenging, competition for people’s attention is tougher, and their devices—cell phones, laptops, tablets—are ubiquitous (although the presence of devices can also be a good thing, as increasingly people use them to take notes).
Finally, an audience sizes you up immediately and, within seconds, decides if you are worth their attention and engagement. There are studies showing that this happens in the first eight seconds. Think about that: In the first eight seconds, people decide whether to listen to you or not. This certainly puts some weight on how you open your talk.
All of this adds up to a tall order. It demands that you, the speaker, think about your audience more than just superficially. Your topic and your time allotment may be fixed, but your audience is a variable, and that should guide you in preparing what you deliver and how. The experience you give them will stay with them longer than any words or data you share.
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!