Don't Lose to the Snooze

[Photo Credit: Lance Anderson]

[Photo Credit: Lance Anderson]

How can you prevent your audience from checking out?  The answer: an emphasis cue. But first, let’s talk about why people sometimes space out while you’re speaking.

Could be that you haven’t put enough time into your presentation and it’s simply not engaging. (But let’s hope this isn’t the case!) Or maybe you didn’t do enough audience analysis and you’re talking ‘past’ them. Or then again, it just might be our crafty brains doing, well, what they naturally do.

John Medina, a molecular biologist, has studied the human brain for decades. I love his book (a NY Times bestseller no less), "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.” In it, Medina distills the latest findings in neuroscience into practical concepts that folks like us can understand. Turns out that much of what he says can make us much better speakers.

Take Medina’s Ten Minute Rule. It states that, in short, our brains need some form of stimulus about every ten minutes. When that doesn’t happen, our brains snooze, basically falling into hibernation mode. The result is deadly: people daydream, check Instagram, or the like.

You can prevent this from happening by using an emphasis cue or a single phrase that essentially says, “this is important. Listen up.” Think of the high school teacher who suddenly says, ‘This will be on the final exam.’ Yup, I’m awake now!

Examples of emphasis cues include:

  • My point is ...

  • I’ll sum up by saying …

  • What I learned at that moment was …

  • If you take one thing from my talk, let it be …

You’ll want to tailor these to your speaking style of course. Advanced speakers might also pair these with a delivery cue such as a long pause or a descriptive hand gesture. Stepping away from the podium will also jog the audience awake and put their attention back where it belongs: on your message.

Interested in more practical speaking hacks? Please click here to subscribe, email, or follow me on Twitter at RKing_Portland. -- Rose