5 Ways to Keep Your Audience From Tuning Out

It takes under a minute for your audience to decide whether they will stay tuned to you or walk away – figuratively or literally. So how do you deliver a talk engaging enough to keep people from checking their emails, Twitter, Facebook or any other diversionary activity? Here are five strategies that work.

See also: Presenting tips: 4 rules of engagement

1. Set the Stage

If you have an introducer, ask him to say two things:

  • Why your talk is so important to the audience
  • Why you, the speaker, can help.

For example, the introducer could say something such as: “Things are pretty hard for us right now; our sales have nose-dived, our competitors are continuing to raise their game and we need a strong response. The guy up next is going to point us in the right direction. He’s helped turn around companies from the brink of disaster, companies such as X, Y and Z. So he knows what he’s talking about. Please welcome Mr X Factor on stage…”

2. Start With a Bang

Communications expert Andy Bounds (from his excellent book: The Snowball Effect: Communication techniques to make you unstoppable) suggests that before you deliver a presentation, you first ask around to find your audience’s biggest concern about the topic to be discussed in the meeting; he then recommends starting your presentation with the phrase “Have you ever” followed by a recognition of the elicited concern. For example if your talk is about buyer behaviour you could begin with something such as,  “Have you ever invested time with a customer who demonstrated all the usual buying signals – but for some  reason didn’t buy from you?’ This recognition of the reality of your audience is often enough to immediately establish a connection with them, Bounds says.

3. Articulate the Benefits of Listening to Your Talk

Bounds’s ‘4W’ approach is a great way to create engaging introductions. Here’s a brief description of each ‘W’ and how to use it:

What your audience wants. For example, “Many of you have told me you’d like more detailed training on the APAC sales technique.” (What they want.)

Why they want it.  For example, “so you can all feel more confident and more effective with your customers.” (Why they want it)

We can help. For example, “That is the purpose of today’s meeting.” (We can help.)

What I’m discussing today. For example, “I’ll be taking you through every step of the process with great examples to help you …” (What I’m discussing today.)


4. Get Your Audience Thinking

If you want your audience to be engaged, you’ll have to find ways to engage them, and the best way to do this is to get them doing some work: thinking work. Here are a few ways you can achieve this:

  • Ask a question followed by a long-ish pause. For example, “Why do we sometimes read our customers wrongly?”
  • Introduce a popular news item (controversy usually works) or a relevant statistic from which you can draw parallels with aspects of your talk
  • Make a perverse statement. For example. “I want you all to fail.” Follow this with a dramatic pause, then say, “I enjoy failure.” By this point your audience should be hooked, which is the perfect time to explain your statement.
  • Use a Quote. An interesting quote from someone most of your audience will know and which relates to your topic is a great way to communicate an idea without doing so directly.


5. Get personal: Tell a Short Story

We warm to people who are honest enough to reveal their frailties, so use this knowledge to your advantage. A good way to do this is to tell a story. Your story should be short, and it should be one that taught you an important and relevant lesson, so make sure that lesson comes across when you tell your story.

See also: Presenting tips- How to Win Minds

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This list certainly isn’t an exhaustive one, but it’s a good start.  Give the techniques a go and let me know the results – use the comments box to get in touch.





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