According to the Wall Street Journal, we receive more than 5,000 advertising messages a day. When we add all the verbal interchanges, telephone calls, and written messages, we can see why it’s so hard to get anybody to pay attention to what we have to say. If we hope to be heard above all the competing voices, our presentations must be so personalized and attuned to the priorities of the target audience that they can’t be ignored.
TEN TRENDS: As a speaker, use these emerging trends to your advantage:
Compacting: Television’s five-second sound bite has attuned the masses to quickie presentation. Once a typical boardroom presentation lasted 30 minutes or more — now, it’s not unusual for a presenter to be allotted three minutes to cover a major topic. The window of attention is narrow. Hit fast and hard.
Entertainment: What can you do to impress people after they’ve seen laser shows and multimedia presentations, and disasters on TV every night? Smart speakers use humor, stories, and metaphors to drive home their points, to make people laugh, cry, and care deeply.
Targeting: With computers spewing out data like volcanic lava and data banks connecting people instantaneously with more information, it’s hard to come up with something new. Audiences suffer from mental fatigue. Do your homework, both with your audiences and with your presentations. There must be a uniqueness in what you say and in the way you say it.
Credibility: Skepticism is widespread. People no longer accept ideas and orders simply because they come from the top down. People hear so many sales pitches and so much hype that they question everything they hear, and challenge many assumptions that seem self-evident to the speakers. Effective speakers build credibility. Make sure what you say is true, then make it convincing and believable.
Individuation: The mass media tend to homogenize everything to appeal to as many people as possible. Businesses are finding that consumers want more customization and individual attention in products and services. Audiences are made up of individuals who want to be recognized as persons, not herded together. To have impact, maintain strong eye contact and move out into the audience.
Simplification: Our world is growing complex and confusing. High technology, cross-pollenization of cultures, and the trend toward bigness make it hard for people to find a place to plug in. What most do is find and fit into niches. To register your messages, greatly oversimplify and then repeat the message again and again.
Visualization: Television, movies, video, print media, billboards, and architecture have so heightened visual stimulation that audiences now get bored quickly with anything that isn’t colorful, doesn’t move or change frequently. Make the most of your gestures and expressions. Use lively visuals and appeal to all senses.
Feedback: Some by-products of complexity and rapid change are confusion, misunderstanding, and false perception. People often don’t hear what we say, or understand what we mean, or apply it in the way we want them to. Effective communication is really dialogue. Try to get your audience involved and make them active participants in an ongoing exchange.
Reinforcement: Half of what a speaker says is forgotten within an hour. Within 24 hours, nearly 9O percent of the content of a speech is forgotten. Give people handles they can use to hang on to the important points. Use symbolism, visual reinforcement, and repetition.
Warmth: The “like factor” is one reason why we remember and enjoy some speakers and follow their counsel. This factor refers to the approachability, charm, style, and humor of the speaker. Often executives believe they should present a reserved image. But they end up losing their audience. People need “lightened up” spaces where they can come to know the speaker’s personality and character. As you learn how to integrate your warm, likeable, people-loving personality into your presentations, you will get your audience to rally around you.
Use Visuals Effectively: There is an art to using visual aids, and the more experience you have with them, the more effective you’ll be. Here are some tips to make your visuals come alive:
- Supports, not crutches. If your visuals are overpowering, there’s no reason for you to be there.
- Each visual should make a point. Visuals are for emphasis. Don’t use a visual just because it’s attractive or impressive.
- Make only one point with each visual. Several messages on one graphic confuse your audience and reduce your impact.
- Keep visuals simple. Design visuals to give a message in less than 10 seconds. Start with a general idea and move to the specific. Your visuals should give people the big picture before moving into more detailed information.
- Show comparisons, examples, or analogies. You can explain complex ideas by graphically showing how they fit in with what the audience already knows.
- Make your visual material real and natural. If you have pictures, sketches, and cartoons, people can “see the picture” immediately and grasp the abstract concepts they represent.
- Use the visual format that best portrays your message. Statistical data, technical information, and complex relationships can often be simplified by using tables, graphs, pie charts, and bar charts.
- Build in continuity. A well coordinated set of visuals is like a well designed room — it looks finished and professional.
- Use action and vivid colors in titles. Active nouns and verbs make your message catchy and put it across more easily than passive verbs. Color adds impact to visuals by highlighting and creating moods and emotions.
It’s not easy to hold the attention of an audience. But if you stay tuned in, your audiences will stay turned on.