Your audience will decide whether your idea spreads or dies merely by embracing it or rejecting it.
The first struggle you face as a presenter is, how will you capture the audience’s attention and keep them engaged throughout your presentation?
A recent Microsoft study shows that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today. Meanwhile, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds. We can thank the age of smart phones for this decline. Have you experienced members of your audience distracted by their phones every couple of minutes?
Planning and orchestrating a successful presentation is difficult enough without having to worry about how you are going to consistently sustain the audience’s interest. Thankfully, you do not have to schedule 57 networking breaks, provide each guest with a custom coffee IV drip, or hire fire-eaters and dancing horses to keep attention and conversation levels high during your presentation.
Below are three ways to drive audience interest, enthusiasm and participation while keeping attendees both engaged and glued to the edge of their seats.
1) Create a Tribe
The key to increasing audience engagement lies in understanding the neuroscience of interaction, or how people’s brains work. Their level of engagement is all in their minds. The one question that human beings are wired to ask, unconsciously, every five seconds is; shall I approach it or shall I avoid it? We are constantly assessing whether an action will result in risk or reward.
As the presenter, you want to persuade the audience to think that you are creating a reward-based environment for them. When you use the reward system, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine – also referred to as the happy hormone. This surge in dopamine instantly results in your audience becoming more stimulated, excited and happy. It makes them seek and it makes them engage with the environment, learn, and stay alert.
The best way to accomplish this is to create a tribe. Even in the most modern cities, people still work and live in tribes. By that, we mean, small groups or small teams and families who share the same beliefs, values, customs and general behaviors that help them understand that they are together and they fit in.
You can take a few small steps to create a tribe and make a lasting impression. First, shake people’s hands when they walk in. It instantly signals that you are with them, not against them. The touch also produces a neurotransmitter called oxytocin, which makes them feel that you are on their side. Finding commonalities between the group and using the word we rather than you with open gestures will also increase togetherness in the group. Connection is the key to forming tribes. The more you can get people to connect with you and with each other, the higher their dopamine levels will be.
2) Set Expectations
Think back to the last vacation you took. At what point during the vacation process were you happiest? It may surprise you to learn that it was not when you were on the beach sipping an iced beverage. Studies show that the biggest boost in happiness happens during the planning phase of the vacation. We get more joy from anticipation than the vacation itself.
Get attendees to look forward to your event by sharing a sample of the content they will experience at the event. People are always more engaged in predictable environments because predictability makes them feel safe. Also, provide guidelines for timing, such as when coffee breaks will be scheduled.
3) Create Unique Takeaways
To keep attendees engaged after the event, provide them with content they can easily consume and share. A video camera will be your best friend – it will allow you to capture and record onsite learning as well as audience insights or reactions. Make a point of interviewing attendees to get their thoughts on programs or key takeaways, and setting aside space where they can share stories or expert tips, hints and advice on primary event topics. You can then have the material edited into standalone segments or short packages to share during or after the gathering via YouTube, DVD or video learning archives. Alternately, contributions can be transcribed and used in newsletters, eBooks or blog posts that help highlight your community all year long. When you capture enough media at the event, you will have promotional material until your next event.
Your presentation will be successful when you actively engage your attendees before, during and after the event. You will engage your audience by creating a tribe, setting expectations, and creating unique takeaways. The more intellectually and emotionally invested your audience is, the more likely it is that they will adopt your message, share their experience with others and help market your next event.