Thursday, September 3, 2009

10 seconds - use 'em or lose 'em (lose your audience, I mean)

I just read a post by Geoffrey James entitled "Presentation? You've got 10 seconds!" and this statement caught my attention:
"When you’re presenting, you’ve got 10 seconds (more or less) to capture the attention of the decision-makers. If you don’t… out come the Blackberries and the iPhones, and you can basically kiss the meeting goodbye. They won’t be listening."

10 seconds...really? I've heard before that you've got between 3-7 minutes to grab your audience, but has it really gotten so bad as to drop to 10 seconds? He says that the best way to grab your audience's attention in that short time span is to quote a statistic or something "credible and factual that surprises and (probably) frightens them a little bit."

I agree that you have to grab your audience from the outset. But, if we're now down to a 10 second time window, I fear we're all doomed. So, I'm not willing to buy in totally to that time estimate. What I'm willing to agree to is that you need to give your audience something worth listening to and deliver it in a way that enables them to hear the message clearly. It's about presentation skills as well as content. No matter how good your content is, it's just as much about the delivery.

I also agree that today's technology allows us to exhibit ADHD behavior in a multitude of ways. From my iPhone, I can check email, send text messages, surf the web, tweet, play games, read books, and so much more. If I'm sitting in your audience and you don't keep my attention, I can easily (and, for the most part, unobtrusively) find a way to entertain myself and ignore you. I don't have to get up and leave. I simply tune you out and give my attention to my friendly, and oh so fun, iPhone.

As a presenter, I hate looking out and seeing the tops of people's heads as they stare down at their mobile devices (or worse yet, their laptops). Even if 99% of the audience is staring at me in rapt attention, the other 1% disturb me beyond measure. I do understand that when you are away from the office, you aren't free from responsibility. You may still have to respond to problems if/when they arise. But, if you've booked time in your schedule to attend a presentation or conference, would it be fair to ask the folks back at the office to expect some delay in your responses? How about establishing a "check in" schedule? Maybe every 1-2 hours or whatever time frame is reasonable for your situation. Then, instead of feeling like you have to look at and respond to every call, text or email, you can just silence your little electronic friend and pick it up after the presentation is over. If you end up getting bored with the presentation and don't feel like it's worth your time, get up and leave. wouldn't that be a novel approach?

In the end, I do think that a 10 second "grab 'em or lose 'em" time frame is too short. But, I think the time to capture and hold your audience's attention is short in proportion to the amount of time a person is willing to limit their access to every imaginable distraction that is available at their finger tips.

Maybe in the end, it's not just the presenter's job to capture the audience's attention. Maybe it's also the job of the audience to limit the distractions they will allow themselves and to give the speaker their full attention. Like the old song says "it takes two baby, it takes two".


SydOracle said...

"credible and factual that surprises..them"
Hmm. Tell them something they don't know, wouldn't expect, have no time to check, and have them BELIEVE you.
I think that indicates the presenter has such respect/authority that they've bought in to what you are saying before the meeting even starts. Or maybe just a scary level of charisma.

Karen said...

Or...they question your statement so heavily that they listen well looking for ways to poke holes in your statement! Either way you've got 'em! :)

Kerry Osborne said...

Reading books on the iPhone now? Have you given up the Kindle? What app are you using on the iPhone?


Karen said...

Kerry - No. I haven't abandoned my Kindle. I use the Kindle app for the iPhone. But, I found the article I read that prompted this post by following a Tweet link.