When you envision attending a conference, workshop, or training session, what’s your immediate reaction?

If you mentally groaned and rolled your eyes, you wouldn’t be alone. I’m guilty of it, too. When I think back on the thousands of professional events I’ve attended, some real snooze-fests come to mind.

As a speaker, it’s difficult to overcome the decades of mediocre (and just plain bad) experiences endured by your audience. You’re also directly competing with technology. In fact, in this era of smartphones and smartwatches, it’s said that audiences lose their focus in under three minutes.

If you’re hoping to capture your crowd’s attention—before they become distracted by their notifications—here are three things to keep in mind when designing your next presentation:

1. Focus on the experience, not just the material.

You’ve been asked to train a group of people on a specific concept, tool, or technique and you’re eager to share your knowledge. As the subject matter expert, you pour your effort into creating a “how to” walkthrough guide in presentation form. Not only do you feel confident about the material—since you can talk about it in your sleep—but you also feel proud of the progress that you’ve made in creating it.

As the expert, you’re doing well. As a speaker, however, you’ve glossed over the most important aspect of an effective workshop. When you focus so much energy on the material you’re presenting, rather than the experience you’re creating, you lose sight of your audience.

Before you tackle the what (your material), you need to consider the who, where, and why.

Ask yourself these questions:

• Who will be attending?

• Why will they be there?

• Where will your audience be mentally, physically, and energetically at the start of your talk?

• Where do you want them to be by the end?

• How can you take them there in the most natural way possible?

The point is, don’t jump into your slideshow material without considering the journey you want to take your guests on.

2. Tell a story.

Traditional presentations are delivered by a talking head hiding behind a podium and a slideshow. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this approach but it’s become expected and, therefore, fails to pique the audience’s interest before the three-minute timer ends.

Instead, consider opening your speech with a story. Stories bring concepts to life through showing rather than telling. They have the ability to resonate with your audience across multiple planes—relational, financial, emotional, logical, and spiritual.

Real life examples are simply more relatable than a list of bullet points. Once you’ve caught your audience’s attention and pulled them in with a resonating story, you can share the key points from your materials.

3. Encourage audience participation.

A good workshop creates buzz. A great one creates action. One of the major problems with the standard approach to presentations is that the audience’s voice is rarely invited until the very end.

Consider the flow of a typical conference session:

• Five minutes about the speaker and his or her organization

• A quick background on the need for the training

• A summary overview about the topic that will be discussed

• 30–60 minutes delving into the material in detail

• A hurried, “any questions?” segment because the speaker ran over his or her allotted time

And replace it with:

• A story about a challenge, opportunity, or struggle

• A prompt to the audience connected to the story (e.g., “Have you been here?” “What do you think happened next?” “What would you do in this situation?”)

• Sharing the conclusion to the story and what makes it such a fascinating study

• Appealing to the audience for feedback and interpretation on the events

• Applying the speaker’s expertise on what went right, what went wrong, and how it could have been handled differently

• Delving into the topic material in detail

• Issuing a challenge to the crowd to apply it in some small way to their everyday life

Can you feel the difference in energy in the second approach? The audience isn’t an afterthought. They’re actively invited and encouraged to participate throughout the entire process. In return, they’re given the tools to retell the story, apply what they learned to their own lives, and, later, relay their own experiences to others.

If you’re a trainer, speaker, or people manager, iPEC’s coach certification program can teach you tools to get your audience talking and inspire action. Learn more about the program here.

When Sheryl and her husband discovered their daughter had special needs, their world was shaken to the core. As an iPEC Certified Professional Coach, Sheryl has dedicated her life to giving parents of children with special needs the support, education, and inspiration they need to thrive through the diagnosis, advocate for their children – and come out on the other side stronger than ever.


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