How do you EARN attention when presenting?

By Laura Bergells on

“No computers or handhelds during my presentation,” barks a presenter. “I don’t know whether you’re playing games or paying attention. For the next hour, all eyes up here, on me!”

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana Marta 7

I ignore this insane outburst, of course. I’m an adult. So is the rest of the audience. I take notes on my notebook PC. If the guy has something pithy to say, I might even rock it out on Twitter, give him credit, and spread his idea further.

After his presentation, the fellow rebuked me for failing to follow his pre-presentation command. I was being rude by typing as he talked, he insisted.

On the contrary, I protested. I was there to learn from him, not to pacify his ego by staring adoringly at him while he ignored the needs of his audience.

In fact, I told him I glanced up from my computer numerous times. I looked at his PowerPoint slides, but the text was too small for me to read, so I looked at him. His body language — back to the audience as he read the text from the slides — didn’t hold my visual interest, so my eyes went back to my computer screen. Because he was long-winded, he didn’t give me any short concepts to Tweet, so his ideas didn’t spread beyond the room.

I have an obligation to be a good audience member. It means that my mobile phone is silenced, so that I don’t annoy others. It means that I give back energy to the presenter — I laugh if something’s funny, applaud if I am moved, nod quietly with agreement, raise my hand to ask questions, make eye contact at times, or participate in activities or discussions when I am asked courteously. Otherwise, I remain silent and take notes.

As a presenter, I note that my audience is often texting or typing while I talk. They might indeed be playing games or doing something non-work related. They also might be taking notes, learning, and sharing ideas.

It’s not about me and my needs, it’s about the audience. A modern audience uses modern tools. As a presenter, I need to learn to adapt my style to fit their needs. Why should the audience have to pacify my selfish needs for their attention? Why should I force my audience to stop using tools that let them learn and share information?

As a presenter, I need to EARN attention. If I’m interesting, the audience is more likely to be interested. They might express their interest in a different way: years back, they might have nodded and jotted down a note. Today, they might nod and type.

Get used to it. Don’t churlishly tell your audience to PAY attention. Instead, be so phenomenally entertaining or interesting that they can’t help but GIVE you their attention!

How do you EARN attention when presenting to a modern, tech-savvy audience?