Are your presentations missing these two elements to grab the audience’s attention?
Carmen Simon, PhD
I was recently asked “What do you think most presentations are missing?” To distill this question down to only two digestible points, I would have to say: edge and emotion. I was in London, riding the tube, and from the dozens of ads surrounding me, I only remember one. It advertised a hotel club in UK, and it did it in such a pleasant, colorfully balanced, subtle innuendo way, that I still remember it. Edge and emotion.
How do we add edge and emotion? We can learn a lot from consumer advertising because its creators often spend money to see what captures viewers’ attention and what is quickly forgotten.
Specific language mobilizes the brain. I bought a bottle of fruit juice just because of this description: “This ambrosial smoothie begs of thoughts of faraway beaches and lush tropical islands. What might not come to mind is the treasure-trove of antioxidants—nature’s elite force against free radicals (the molecules that trash your cells like rock stars trash hotel rooms). But enough of that self-repair stuff. Just think palm trees and scantily-clad natives.” Have you attended those presentations where speakers have the courage to stay away from faded and tired corporate cliches? Be that presenter. Specific language has the potential to add edge and emotion.
Ask better questions. A good question immediately accounts for edge and emotion. The questions can even be rhetorical (especially if you’re presenting to very large audiences). Imagine starting a presentation on climate change this way: “What new kinds of fuels and power sources should we develop? And how do we protect our environment at the same time? This presentation will offer answers to these questions that preoccupy you…”
Create cognitive tension. Here is how John Rennie, editor in chief of the Scientific American, starts one of his columns: “Once upon a time an ethicist had a brilliant idea for a prison. Today we all live in it.” He then goes on to talk about the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham who advocated the Panopticon, which is a prison where inmates are being watched by unseen forces. It is a beginning that invites a few more minutes of attention because of the edge and emotion behind the words. Contrast this with the typical presentation start: “Welcome everyone, my name is so and so, I am sorry the conference room is a bit dark…”
Cognitive tension is created when you violate what an audience is likely to know, a schema that their brain has developed and confirmed for ages. Often, addressing the opposite of what they believe adds tension, and as a result, edge and emotion. This combination is potent enough to buy you at least two more minutes of their attention. Discover more elements to grab the audience’s attention by attending a Rexi Media workshop.