To command Attention, present with Attention

Your audience is spoiled rotten. Whenever it may be, whoever your audience might be – any audience – they’re pretty much certain to be spoiled. Pretty much certain to be infinitely distractible, to have short attention spans, to be twitchy and fickle.

Everyone in the audience is used to getting a constant feed of compelling media content that’s honed by algorithms to grab their attention.  Everyone has anytime access to the world’s most riveting performers, from polished TED speakers and jaw-dropping commencement addresses, through star stand-up comedians, to kittens and kids doing cute things. Everyone has the itching sense that there’s probably something more interesting happening somewhere else.

Everyone in the audience regularly feels an almost irresistible urge to check their phone for news, emails, messages, social media updates, to get get the next fix of those addictive little hits of stimulation. And increasingly, in presentations and meetings, people have no hesitation in firing up their screens. In fact one of the key performance indicators in ongoing presentation coaching is to track the percentage in the audience that’s digitally AWOL at any one time.

So there you are, preparing to present to a spoiled audience that’s seen videos of Steve Jobs. They may even have been entertained by top keynote speakers at gala events. What can you possibly do that will command their attention?

There are plenty of important techniques and tools e.g. start with an attention-grabbing hook, involve the audience, use stories. They all need preparation and practice to get them into the muscle. But what makes the difference to the audience’s attention on the day is how well you manage your own attention throughout the presentation: smoothly switching between tracking the progress of your content delivery, tracking the audience’s shifting responses, noticing your own thoughts and feelings, and not getting stuck on any of them.

Try this exercise

In an idle free moment, 1) start by briefly looking inwards and paying attention to your body – the soles of your feet, your thighs, your shoulders, your neck, your breath. Then 2) turn your attention outwards and briefly focus on two or three things that catch your eye. Then 3) open your attention to everything around you, taking it all in without focusing on anything in particular. Practice cycling through 1), 2) and 3) smoothly and quickly. For added benefit, notice how you feel as you do it.

You can do this exercise pretty much any time, any place. Give it a try and let me know how it goes