My rabbi gave a nice sermon recently. As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking about how strange it is these days to hear an actual speech. It seems out of place — in a world of text messages, cat videos on YouTube, and iPhone-addled attention spans — to hear someone lecture for 30 minutes to silent listeners. There was a time when people attended lectures as a form of entertainment, like going to see the latest Will Farrell movie or attending the Falcons game. But who listens to real speeches today except at religious services and political rallies?
Let’s face it folks, the traditional speech is a snoozy artifact that we dust off on the High Holy Days and during the State of the Union address.
If you need to stand up at a function and speak for more than 10 minutes without interruption, remember this; your listeners will be bored.
The solution? Stop giving speeches! Give interactive presentations instead. Here are some ideas to help.
Never Lecture for More than Ten Minutes.
I read of a study of college students at Indiana University where a professor sat in the back of lecture halls and watched students to note when their attention lagged. The professor found that a lecture rarely went more than ten minutes before attention lapsed.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever give a presentation for more than 10 minutes. But don’t “lecture” for more than ten minutes before reviving the audience’s attention with something interactive.
The First Choice for Interactivity is Q&A.
Encourage questions at any time.
I gave a 75-minute presentation to 200 CPAs at the Westin Hotel in Buckhead this week. After a few minutes of introduction I said, “I know that this is a big group. But please interrupt and ask questions at any time. I don’t want to lecture. Please don’t hold back.”
We had a lively discussion.
Never leave questions to the end.
Ask the Audience’s Opinion.
Let’s say that you’ve been asked to speak on multi-use real estate developments. Don’t just tell the audience all the challenges that you see. Ask the audience about the challenges they’ve faced.
Let the Audience Solve Problems.
I once did a three-hour CLE presentation on new administrative regulations. I gave an overview of key principles.
But most of the time was spent on hypothetical scenarios involving Homer and Marge Simpson. I handed out the scenarios and divided the audience into groups, allowing time to work through each situation. Then, each group reported out. I commented on their findings.
Avoid giving speeches. Instead, give interactive presentations. Your listeners will thank you.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”