Tuesday, March 19, 2013

want to catch the audience's attention? talk with them.

Friday, March 8, finally arrived.

I was the last speaker during the International Women's Day morning seminar. My one week's worth of preparation was about to be tested. When my 15-minute talk time came up, it was almost noon (thanks to lengthy speeches before my turn). That is one of the most challenging times to speak; I expected the audience to be hungry, bored, antsy, and restless. And dealing with such an audience wasn't something I had factored in during my rehearsal sessions Thursday night. I knew, as I walked towards the front of the lecture hall, that I had to get the audience's attention fast and to sustain it.

To do those, I drew from what I could instantly remember from the first Nancy Duarte webinar I listened in to, from the several Toastmasters International meetings I've attended, and from Garr Reynolds' books which he had kindly shipped to me.

All of them advise these: involve the audience in my talk and tell a story. 

Catch attention: Involve the audience.
For me, that meant letting the March 8 audience to respond to what I was saying. What better way to do that than to throw questions at them, right? I opened my talk with a series of questions. I also mentioned several audience members' names during my talk so that it felt more inclusive. Perhaps this was my version of going down from the stage and mingling with the audience (if there was a stage). Going closer to the audience was, I learned in college, the best way to wake up a sleepyhead in class (my organic chemistry professor certainly used this on me on numerous occasions).

Sustain it: Tell a story.
I had framed my talk as a 15-minute story-telling session rather than one that resembled an abbreviated scientific paper. So once the audience's attention was caught, I could segue to the main story. And I had prepared for that part the previous day by spending two hours practicing to make sure that my message was clear and concise.

Eleven minutes after I started my talk (yes, someone made sure I stayed within the time limit), I finished my presentation with a sigh of relief, clammy palms, and a big smile on my face.