26 Aug 2012

Brain Rules for Presenters - #4 Attention

I am currently reading Brain Rules by John Medina. It is an excellent book about how our brain works and it has important lessons for everyone. John Medina is a molecular biologist who has shared 12 rules about how our brain works. He calls these brain rules. His rules are based on proper research. I will be sharing some of these rules here which are relevant for presenters. This is the first post about this book.

Rule #4 Attention: We don't pay attention to boring things

What has John Media said:

1) If we pay complete attention, we learn better. We remember better and remember more accurately.

2) Our attention span is only 10 minutes.

3) We pay attention to things we can relate to. We pay attention to things we like or are important to us. We pay attention to something unusual or unexpected. We pay attention when we get emotional. John Medina says, "Emotionally arousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events." This basically means that emotions get our attention.

4) We remember only the meaning or the gist of something. We do not remember too many details.

What it means for presenters and speakers:

The 10 minute rule: As presenters we need to remember that our audience will not be able to pay attention for more than 10 minutes. So we must try to present within 10 minutes. In case it is not possible, we must try to do something in the 10th minute of our presentation in order to buy another 10 minutes of our audience. Here are a few suggestions: a) Play a video just when the 10 minute mark is coming. b) Give a task to the audience. Some kind of exercise. c) Share a story with them. d) Invite a different speaker on stage. What all you can do will vary from presentation to presentation. Just remember that if something is not done in the 10th minute, you will lose your audience. Since they are not paying attention any more, they will not remember anything you say.

Meaning before details (Point 4 above): As per John Medina the brain seeks meaning first. Hence we must share the gist of the concept first to our audience. If you are a teacher and you are teaching a new topic. First give them a summary of what it is. Then add details on top of it.

Appeal to emotions: In order to get maximum attention of your audience, you need to touch them emotionally. Make them feel something. Fear, love, happiness, nostalgia, make them laugh or make them cry. Add this emotional angle to your presentation (even if it is a business presentation). Sales presentations can be passionate which gives your team members goosebumps. If you are an NGO, you can share a story of a girl your NGO is helping. What she has been through and how much she is in need of help. It is all about making your presentation more human.

Know your audience: We pay attention to things we can relate to. We pay attention to things we like or find important. As presenters, if we know what our audience likes and what is important to them, we can use it to get their attention. Examples and stories used in our presentation will be more 'relevant' and will thus get more attention. When teaching a class of Indian marketing students, should you give examples of Indian brands or American? The more we know our audience, the better we can customise our presentation.


Brain Rules by John Medina is highly recommended for everyone. Click here to buy/know more: Amazon (US) HomeShop18 (India) Amazon (UK).

11 Aug 2012

Presenting at a Corporate Press Conference

Recently I was part of a press conference. This post captures my thoughts on how one should prepare and speak at a corporate press conference. If you are going to speak at a press conference this post will be of special interest to you.

I will begin with four main lessons.

1. Your audience (the print and electronic media) is short of time. They want you to quickly wrap up your presentation. So keep your content very short and simple. Total presentation time should not be more than 15 minutes.

2. The stakes are very high at a press conference. No company can afford to be caught on the wrong foot. That is why, you need to prepare well for all possible questions. The media will ask you questions and you need to answer them promptly.

3. Plan your content well. Press conference is organised so that media will talk about you. So that TV channels say what you want them to say and newspapers write what you want them to write. Hence you need to know what is it that you want the press to write and what you want TV channels to say.

4. The media will say what you want them to say if they understand you and believe you. Credibility is most crucial in a press conference. There are enough people who doubt you. You need to shut them up. Support your claims with proper data.

Time is always a constraint at a press conference. My experience with Indian media is that they are always busy and want you to complete your speech fast. Every company has a printed press kit which contains the press release. Press release talks about what the conference is all about. Since they have the press release they don't really need to sit through your one hour presentation. You want to use this opportunity to share your decades of achievement but your audience does not care so much. They have come for the news. Give them the news and give them quick. Give it to them in a manner which excites them. Then only will it get covered the following day.

Since time is a constraint you can say more in less time by using a video. Convert your presentation into a short audio-visual film. All you need to do is to add a good voice over and your presentation will now finish early. Add some music, photos and decent effects and you have your audience's attention. Take professional help because the situation demands it.

Preparing for questions is extremely important in a press conference. Media will always ask you questions and most of the times the questions can be tricky. You know why your company is doing the press conference and sitting with your team you can list down most of the questions which you can be asked. Decide who will answer these questions and what will be the answers. As you gain experience,  your preparation time will keep coming down.

Planning the content is perhaps the trickiest job. You have only 15 minutes and you need to complete your story. If you are playing your 5 minute long corporate film, the you are left with 10 minutes only. So where do you start? Start with the end in mind. What do you want the newspapers to write tomorrow? Write down that statement on a piece of paper. That is the main take-away for your audience. For this to be the take-away what will you tell them. Try to tell them only three main things. Now figure out how to say these three things. Also make sure you repeat the main take-away a few times. This will ensure it gets registered with the audience well.


Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

3 Aug 2012

Help yourself by helping your audience

When we use list of bullet points in a presentation, we normally write down all the points at once. Here is an example.




I attended a presentation today wherein the presenter presented 20 slides like these. As a rule, I discourage using bullet points but there are situations when bullets work. If you have to use them then avoid putting all the points at once. Use animation and make the bullets appear one by one. So when you talk about the first law of motion, the first bullet is only visible. When you move to the second law, then the second bullet appears and so on. Click here to find out how to do this.


Why? Because when such a slide appears, the audience starts reading it. At the same time the presenter it talking about point 1. There is a clash. Do I read all points or listen to the presenter? I am reading point 2 while the presenter is still taking about point 1.


As a presenter you want them to listen to you, make sure you do not put all points at once. Either use animation as discussed above or break the slides into multiple slides. A slide with 3 bullets becomes 3 slides with one bullet each. Much easier for your audience and for you.