Using orientation to get attention

Orientation is a basic need

Humans are complicated creatures. But in some ways they are actually pretty simple - and this is the focus of today’s blog. Following a few simple basic rules can really help your audience to concentrate on your presentation. And the best thing is, that applying this knowledge automatically increases your presentation success, without any effort on the part of your audience. An easy-to-use approach is Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, which suggests that we are only able to immerse ourselves in something if we are reassured that all our basic needs are met.

Will I go hungry?

In order to give you their full attention, your audience members need security. They need to know where the nearest toilet is, and that they will not go hungry or thirsty during the meeting. They also need further orientation: How long is this going to take? Where are we exactly? Who’s that in front? Who are all these other people?
This sounds so obvious. Petty, even. But you can be sure that if just one of these questions has not been completely resolved in the minds of your audience, their attention is going to wander. You as speaker will be battling against a front that you’re hardly aware of, and it’s going to cost you energy you can ill afford to waste.

Essen verboten

Create a feeling of security

Prior to your presentation, spend some time sorting out mundane things, such as signposting the meeting room, opening doors, and (if your audience are not familiar with the location) ensuring there are clearly visible signs for toilets and cloakrooms. Explain what the procedure will be: Where can people get themselves something to drink, or where and when will drinks be served? When will there be something to eat, or are snacks and biscuits available in the meeting room? Clarify the rules – is it OK for people to help themselves to food and drink during the presentation, or should they bring what they want to their seat at the beginning?

Suggest rules for asking questions and developing discussions during the presentation – or perhaps limit this to after the presentation, depending on the context and your goals. Be clear about the timetable and the sequence of topics. But beware: if you name a definite time, make sure you stick to it! Every deviation will result in restlessness and distraction among your audience. If they don’t already know each other, say something ‘en passant’ about the people sitting in the room: e.g., that you are delighted to welcome 50 IT-specialists from the pharma industry who… If there is a list of participants, then mention it. Reassure your audience that a handout or download will be available after the presentation, or suggest that they take notes on anything they consider important.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel

Our society dictates that modesty is a virtue. Nevertheless, you should explain to your audience who you are, and why you have the expertise to stand at the front and speak. Be clear about your role. Then no-one in the audience has to start worrying about whether to believe you or not.

No sabre-tooth tiger in sight…

Orientation is a basic need. It gives us the security we need to concentrate on a particular situation, subject or speaker. No-one has to worry about a thing. Because that archaic part of us is secure in the knowledge that there isn’t a sabre-tooth tiger coming up the corridor.


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