Epic Songs and Short Attention Spans Pt 2.

Last post I introduced the problem of short attention spans. This post I'll talk about some ideas for regaining your audience's concentration and focus while you're presenting. But first, we need to structure your presentation to take advantage of those attention grabbing techniques. 

In Pt. 1 we found out you never want to hit the 10 minute wall where your audience loses attention and starts texting. You’ll need to be proactive and break your presentation up into shorter intervals of 7 to 8 minutes. Between those intervals you’ll need some sort of transition. 

There are two types of transitions: 1) a thematic/topical change and 2) what I call a “jump.”

Inserting either type of transition between your intervals is a good start, but to have a presentation that truly rocks you need to include both.

For the thematic or topical change, look for them while you're planning your talk. They should be natural sections or themes that can be segmented, like chapters in a book. Review those sections and see if they can be culled down to 7 or 8 minute chunks. 

Think of a jump as a tactic or physical action to interject energy into your presentation as you guide your audience along to the next section and regain their attention in the process. While I purposely chose this action verb, jump, I’m not recommending that you attempt a scissor kick jump like David Lee Roth. But it should be studied nonetheless

You’ll want to intersperse these thematic transitions and jumps between your talk’s segments. Let’s say your talk is 40 minutes. It can be broken down into five 8 minute segments that will need 4 jumps during the talk. 

Infographic: A forty minute talk with four jumps.

Infographic: A forty minute talk with four jumps.

What are some ideas for jumps?

At conferences, my favorite jump between segments is giving out prizes. People love prizes, that’s a fact. Just the mere mention of the word “prize” or “give-away” and you get your audience back, just like that. And if you have more prizes to give them later, let them know. I'm not sure if there’s any psychology to back this up, but it seems you increase the likelihood your audience will stay throughout your whole talk knowing that at any moment they could win a prize. Don't tell them you’re going to give out prizes in 16 or 24 minutes from now. Let that be a surprise. 

Another jump is switching from slides to a video or demo. But you'll need to make sure the video or demo is timed under 10 minutes and it should be just as engaging as your material before it. 

If you’re co-presenting with someone, then changing speakers can be used as a jump. But practice those handoffs with your co-presenter, including passing the slide clicker and your handoff phrases. “And now Shannon is going to…” Work on all the handoffs until it flows naturally. 

You can also think about doing something as simple as physically moving to another section of the room or stage, allowing direct eye contact with a new part of the audience. Once in front of a new section the folks there will think "Oh man, I have to pay attention now because he’s right in front of me." It’s up to you when you return to the area you were previously standing in. It could be a minute or you could stay over there for the remainder of that segment.

Maybe you could head out into the audience briefly and then make your way back on stage for the next section. So often presenters act like they’re trapped up on stage, that there’s a force field preventing them from getting out into the crowd. You’ve seen rock stars dive into the crowd right? People lose their minds. That might not happen to you, but it’s going to change things up and get their attention. Make sure to test out the range of the mics and your slide clicker beforehand. 

And my last recommendation for a jump is one of the most powerful: have a conversation with the audience. I don’t like having a formal Q&A in the end but I also don’t like anyone interrupting my groove with questions in the middle of my talk. What I like to do is engage the audience throughout my presentations at these planned transitions and ask if there are any questions about the section I just talked about. Or I ask the audience questions leading into the next section of the talk. 

Let’s say I was doing a talk on the history of heavy metal and my next section was about metal umlauts. I might ask “You know about metal umlauts, right? You know, röck döts? What’s a band that uses them?” Let’s say someone answers Motörhead. I’ll ask them if they've ever seen Motörhead in concert. If they answer yes, I'll ask them how it was. Give up a little control just for a few seconds or even a minute. Don't be afraid to let something spontaneous happen. Don't worry, you still have the mic. You’re still the MC.

Infographic: Jump examples for a presentation on a cursory history of heavy metal.

Infographic: Jump examples for a presentation on a cursory history of heavy metal.

Practicing these techniques and using them during your talks, you’ll begin to see opportunities for more effective jumps that will further enhance your presentations. And hopefully you'll experience the value of them when you’re on stage by realizing the audience is more engaged and you’re having more fun by mixing things up. 

Let’s recap some of the ways to utilize those jumps:

• Give prizes away

• Play a video

• Show a demo

• Switch speakers

• Move to a different area 

• Head out into the crowd

• Engage in direct conversation

Now that you know about structuring your talk to use transitions to keep your audience interested, next time we’ll talk about the right length for your presentation.