Can I Have Your Attention Please?

From hands-on classrooms to virtual meetings, Brain Rules provides a road map for sharing information.

You’re a meeting host presenting to a silent, lifeless audience. “Any questions?” you ask, hoping for any proof that you still have their attention. Your plea for some sign of life is met with the same glazed looks that began appearing around 10 minutes into your presentation. Hopes of your audience retaining your carefully-prepared information are fading like a candle on a cold winter night.

Sound familiar? For anyone experienced with hosting meetings or training classes, you probably have had a similar experience. Unless you have found a unique way to arouse and hold your audience’s attention, they start checking out around the 10-minute mark. Our brains are only wired to pay attention for that amount of time. Even more depressing is that people usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days.*

Is there anything teachers and trainers can do to counter these forces of human nature that obstruct the hard work of our presentations? Yes, with some effort and a willingness to do things differently. John Medina, a molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, helps us understand how people receive, process and retain information and what we can do as leaders, communicators and teachers to give our information a better chance of survival.

In his 280 page book, Medina gives practical tips for structuring information to help your audience stay with you. Here are my three favorite tips:

Emotions Get Our Attention: Medina says, “People don’t pay attention to boring things.” That should not surprise anyone. In fact, 32% of audience members have fallen asleep during a boring presentation. So why do we allow our information to be so boring? We must work harder to tell stories. No matter what industry you’re in, your company has stories. Let me give you an example: In 2011 and 2012, PGi won an award for Best Adoption-Friendly Places to Work sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation.  I could have merely shared the announcement with our employees, but imagine how much more meaningful it was to share the anxiety and emotion of a real person who actually used the benefit. It wasn’t hard to find someone willing to share their story. A quick call to our HR Department garnered me a few likely participants. Not long after, I had an incredible story with pictures and video of one PGi employee’s journey to a children’s prison in Uganda and how that life-changing experience related to PGi’s generous adoption benefit.

Burn Your PowerPoint Presentations:  Pictures are more efficient at communicating information than text. Just take a look at the recent popularity of infographics. Medina says, “The problem with PowerPoint is that it has nearly 40 words per slide.* While I agree that PowerPoint is often used as a crutch and contributes to audience fatigue, I don’t think you have to kill it. Instead, try a few simple things to jazz it up:

  • Make only one to three points per slide.
  • Make sure your slides represent visually what you are saying verbally.
  • Ask yourself if you need to have the slide at all. When in doubt, leave it out.
  • Use the slide for emphasis, but tell the story verbally.

Use Real-World Examples to Help People Remember Your Information: “Providing examples makes the information more elaborate, more complex, better encoded and therefore better learned,” said Medina. The more examples you use, the more likely your audience will remember your information. And, the more personal the example, the more easily it is remembered.

Medina goes into much greater detail about how we learn and what exercise (chapter 1), sleep (chapter 7) and stress (chapter 8) really do to our brains. I particularly found these three chapters interesting, not as a communicator, but as a life-long learner. Whether you’re teaching or receiving information, Brain Rules has great information about how to get the most out of our brains.

If you’re looking for more insights on making your presentations more memorable, download PGi’s free eBook today!



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