We live in an age of mass distraction. Getting people’s attention is becoming more challenging than getting through airport security without being felt up. People don’t listen from the point of view of whether they understand or not – they listen to agree or disagree. A very stifling position because you learn nothing by listening to things you agree with. Getting people to listen is not easy in these fast times of insta-everything.
I have been to many presentations in my career and the memorable ones are those filled with intriguing stories, compelling anecdotes and humour. I remember a New York author quoting Yogi Berra, “It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” He had everyone chuckling. His delivery was key. He revealed the first line, took a pause, and caught us with the surprise. The element of surprise is always a hook. This is where a good icebreaker could lend a hand to capture imaginations. Make people think and smile to best secure their attention.
Presenting information involves many considerations: number of people attending, size of venue, display facilities available, etc. A wee bit of prep can go a long way.
Mobile phones need to be quiet
We all love our phones, but they can be a problem. When I present to people I generally make a joke before I begin, pull out my phone and switch it off. Ask everyone else to do the same, or to at least put them on silent. Most do. Tell all doctors on call that they get a free pass.
Switching off entirely scares most people. There is always the chance they post something on social media about how good your presentation was, so it’s a balancing act.
If you really want to get people’s attention, try out Mobile Flight Mode. Reveal to attendees how you did it and make new friends.
To warm up a room, be cool. Be confident. Be human.
Connecting with a group is also about being vulnerable. Telling them how your girlfriend dumped you gets sympathy. Then asking if there were any single ladies in the room may get them chuckling. Or it may freak out some people. So, say it with a laughing tone. If it fails, you are on your own. The point is to have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be down to earth, be yourself.
Try arriving at the venue early to survey the room. Start conversations with the people in the front row. Win some people over. It helps to have some fans. As a last resort, bring your mom to cheer you on.
Before you actually start, encourage people to sit in front and not hide at the back. Remind them that you’re not a monster.
Get people involved by asking questions. Ask funny, quirky questions. Ask obvious questions. Questions that people are sympathetic to. Complicated and intense questions may lose people. Get creative juices flowing with lateral thinking questions. The Short Stop icebreaker is a good example.
Yes it can be a stressful task, but stand tall and speak in a confident tone. (Even if you have to fake it.) Have a decent grasp of your talk and keep it succinct and on point. Nothing loses a crowd faster than someone staring at the floor, rambling and mumbling into their notes.
PowerPoint is well, er, powerful. It creates digital wonder, but can also put people to sleep. Deep sleep. A good story, an emotionally charged tale or a personal journey can capture imaginations in a big way. Perhaps try a colourful anecdote to back up your story.
Storytelling is an inspired art, and we all have stories to tell.
But more than that, ask others about their stories. Real bonding is about sharing moments and stories.
Make them laugh
Laughter is the best icebreaker. Not everyone’s good at telling jokes, but short, quirky anecdotes are always welcome. No one enjoys listening to a person go on for hours. Reward people for listening. Share inspired new innovations you read about. Relate funny things that happened to you. Laughter stops snoring and gets people listening.
Have a look at our growing collection of humorous detours – there are some real gems.
Limited phone access creates idle hands, which make us a bit anxious. Get people to do things with their hands. If they don’t have pens, hand some out (of the non-clicking kind) and sheets of paper. Explain what these are to the younger attendees who only know touch screens. Then ask them to write down the words “some respect” and to hold up their papers. Good! Now they are all showing you some respect. Finally!
This will loosen them up. Show them some respect in return.
Public speaking is said to be the biggest fear in the world, but we all have to present now and again. Get the most out of it, maximize your time in the spotlight. People listen when they enjoy themselves, so just have fun and be yourself. No one’s ever been lynched for a bad presentation. (We think.) If you see pitchforks appear, then run!
Also try an icebreaker or two – you might amaze even yourself.