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Analyzing the Attention Span of Your Audience

Now that our lives have been swallowed whole by the constantly updating online world, keeping anyone’s constant, undivided attention can be a near-impossible task. Turning one’s phone off is an extreme measure reserved only for plane rides and funerals. Email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts demand more nurturing and attention than a 3-month old child. So when you’re tasked with keeping an audience’s undivided attention in a professional setting for over ten minutes, it’s no exaggeration when we say, you’ll have to work hard at it.

yl-short-attention-span

British bank Lloyds TSB did a study earlier this year on the cause of careless household accidents, and they discovered something that has some broad implications that reach far beyond house chores. According to the study, the average adult attention span has plunged from 12 minutes in 1998 to a measly 5 minutes in 2008. Participants attributed this mostly to stress and decision overload, but I suspect that our rapid-fire, Internet-driven society has exacerbated this trend.

Whatever the cause may be, it undoubtedly poses a new challenge to presenters.

Television commercials rapidly shrunk over the last decade, the average commercial condensing from 1 minute to between 15 and 30 seconds. This is something those of us giving presentations shouldn’t ignore, but the subject matter we’re presenting only allows us to condense so far, and sometimes we may not have a way around giving a 30+ minute presentation. In that case, here are a few strategies that must be used in order to retain the dwindled attention span of your audience.

Condense your slides

This doesn’t mean you should cut out information, but try to present more information orally, and reduce overloading your slides with information. Spend more time articulating your information aloud and less time forcing your audience to read slide after slide packed with information.

Break Up Your Presentation

Especially for a presentation that passes the 30-minute mark, a short break can make the all the difference between life and death by PowerPoint. The most natural way to go about this is often by posing a question to the audience or incorporating them in some other way, but if the setting allows for it, think of a creative activity that can illustrate your point while mixing things up for your audience. If possible, get your audience up and moving around a bit.

Lastly, and this is requires a bit of work on your part, so I won’t classify it as a “quick tip”–your presentation needs to be a story. It needs to have an arch.

Sure, the visual capabilities in Hollywood movies help encapsulate us, but there's another reason why movies hold our attention so easily.
Sure, the visual capabilities in Hollywood movies help encapsulate us, but there’s another reason why movies hold our attention so easily.

There’s a reason why we can sit motionless in a dark movie theater for two hours and our eyes are never tempted to waver from the movie screen, but when we’re in a dull corporate presentation for more than 10 minutes we feel like our brains are melting. These movies have a great story arch. They build suspense and anticipation then release it, and this keeps us looking forward to what comes next.

Craft your presentation in a way that presents a problem (or, “what is”) then shows them the solution (“what could be”), then keep building and releasing tension this way. In this manner, you can have the audience eagerly awaiting for you to move to the next slide, not because it means you’re one slide closer to the presentation’s end, but because they are genuinely eager in what information you will present next.

References:

How To Incorporate Your Audience Into Your Presentation.SlideGenius. July 26, 2013.

How to Make Your First Impression Count in the Business World

You don’t get a redo with a flubbed first impression, especially in the modern business world defined by a hyper-fast pace and short attention span.

We meet new faces every day, and you can’t downplay the importance of these first impressions, especially with an important contact or a corporate presentation. Because of the pressure and importance associated with first impressions, it’s easy to become nervous or over think the situation, but paying attention to a few basic concerns about your behavior and physical appearance can help you relax and make a memorable impression.

Whether you’re meeting someone face to face or engaging a group of people, knowing what cues will cause others to form opinions about you in less than 10 seconds can be the difference between success and failure.

Physical appearance

first impression

This may seem shallow, but your physical appearance and your body language will be the two key factors in how you will first be perceived by others, and keep in mind that the bulk of the first impression will be made in seven seconds, and that impression is unlikely to ever change.

Dress with care, it’s a sign of competency and attention to detail to others, but be wary not to overdress for the occasion. That can also show incompetency–even insensitivity. Furthermore, while it’s important to show individuality, creativity, and originality through your appearance, don’t go overboard, especially in a professional setting. Find out the appropriate dress code (i.e. casual, formal) and craft your creativity within that context. Also, making sure you’re well groomed and appropriately dressed can give you the boost of confidence you need if you’re walking into a situation that may make you a little apprehensive.

Remain open, confident, and relaxed

Your body language can say a lot about your personality and attitude as well, so it’s important to give off a positive, open vibe through your gestures, posture, and body language.

Good posture and a firm handshake will show confidence and assertiveness, which are too highly valued qualities in the business world. Conversely, slouching can be a sign of lack of self esteem and low energy.

Confidence is key to being taken seriously, but appearing open and friendly can’t be undervalued. Your body should face the person you’re speaking to. To ensure the person that you’re giving them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and don’t glance at your watch, phone, or what other people in the room might be doing.

Knowing what not to do is just as important. We all have nervous habits that we begin doing unconsciously. While we may not even be aware of these habits, such as biting our fingernails, crossing and uncrossing our legs, or touching our hair and face, others are, and becoming aware of and controlling these habits is imperative in order to present yourself effectively.

While this may seem like a hefty list of things to be conscious of, the most important tip is simply to be confident, because the majority of these techniques of good-impression making are just symptoms of confidence.