The problem is that today’s audiences aren’t set up to absorb a big download of information. Our attention spans are just too short. So they’re not likely to remember, much less apply, much of what they learned.
The key to better retention and application is for your firm's speakers to say less, and for their audience to say more. People remember what they say themselves more than they remember what’s said to them.
Designing group interaction into your presentation
I had an experience like this recently. My audience was a group of people who do marketing for professional services firms.
The firms they work for are sometimes competitors to each other; at other times they group together on projects. So, one of my objectives was to give them a chance to work together, to get to know each other so that there would be more trust in a future collaborative situation.
I also wanted to give the audience a chance to practice the skills I’d give them, and to build the start of a plan towards applying those skills.
My topic was six types of content that help professional services firms demonstrate their expertise to attain various marketing objectives, such as helping a commodity practicestand out from its competitors.
In the presentation, I told the audience I expected them to work, so they were prepared to do more than just sit back and listen. I provided the audience with information on the first two of the content types, and then asked them to form groups of three or four, and brainstorm around what content their firms could produce that fit with the two types I’d described. Each group then presented their ideas to the room at large. I did the same with the other four types of content as well.
Could I have filled up the time allotted with just me talking? Of course. I’ve certainly got enough content about content marketing -- enough to have written several books on the topic -- but I believe that the audience benefitted more with me talking less, and them talking more.
- They had a chance to internalize more of the learning, by applying what they’d learned, right away.
- They learned from each others’ ideas in their small groups, and in the larger-scale discussion.
- They wrote down their ideas on forms I’d provided, so they had a good idea of the next steps they could take in developing effective content for their firms.
- Since the ideas they wrote down were their ideas, not mine, they had a stronger sense of ownership, and a greater chance they’d actually apply the learning.
Audience participation can take many different forms, and the one I chose was appropriate for a small group of about 30 people, many of whom know each other and are willing to share.
Pick a form of interaction that’s appropriate
At another presentation to a larger group, about 100 business consultants in Reno NV, I took a different approach. The presentation was about how consultants can develop and publish an expert-written article in a business publication.
The core skill I wanted them to learn was how to present their idea to the magazine’s editor through a mini-proposal for the article, called a “query letter”. These were all independent consultants, who didn’t work much together, so I kept the “interactive” section of the presentation to a more individual level, not a group exercise.
I just told them the four main elements that go into an effective query letter, and gave them about ten minutes to sketch out on paper the points for a query that they would write. After that was done, I called for volunteers willing to describe their article idea, and I provided some comments on what they came up with.
I think that this approach worked because by the end of the presentation they had the start of an implementation plan they could put into action when the conference was over.
They’d learned from the others in the group as well, and had been encouraged that they could, in fact, get published: “Well, if she can do it, why can’t I?”
Be aware of the technical savvy of the audience
I’ve done presentations in which most of the audience members are highly savvy from a technical point of view. Their first question was, “What’s the hashtag?” and they resolutely live-tweeted throughout.
I’m not convinced that live-tweeting is the best way to stay focused on the presentation at hand, but there are many other ways to build interaction into a presentation today, through live voting.
But I think it’s important to understand the technical skills of the audience in order to understand how best to serve them.