Whether you are talking with the boss, a new client or an audience of 300 people, what happens when they stop listening? How do you get them back? It can happen in any set of circumstances for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s our own fault. Sometimes the acoustics in the room work against us. Sometimes you just might be in front of some rude people. Or maybe something else has happened that has created a distraction. First, a quick story about that last situation.
On the day the verdict was read in the O.J. Simpson trial I was actually a juror in the Los Angeles court system, sitting in judgment of a civil case. The judge hearing our case knew it would be unfair to have the case go on while it seemed like the whole world wondered what the jurors in the O.J. case had decided. He knew the lawyers wouldn’t have a very attentive jury and his staff would be wondering what was happening across the street in the most famous courtroom in the country. To solve the dilemma, he released us for an hour-long break during the reading of the verdict and then we went back to our work. Problem solved.
It happens: Realize it can happen and have a plan in place. The biggest challenge occurs when you are caught off guard by an audience. Does this crowd have a history of that kind of behavior? Is your boss someone who starts looking around 5 minutes into every conversation? Is your Board of Directors made up of impatient souls? Plan ahead for those easily distracted people and you’ll always feel better about the experience. Now on to some solutions:
Stop talking: Sometimes when an audience isn’t paying attention, I’ll just stop talking. If you can be comfortable with silence it can be a very effective attention getter and usually gives you a chance to start fresh. You can smile – not making it a huge negative – and get back to what you were saying, perhaps in a shortened form. For those who have slides up a screen, make sure you are using a slide advance system that offers you a chance to make the screen go blank. That little trick signals immediately something has changed and the audience usually stops what they were doing to see what’s going on.
Offer to change things up: If it’s not working, ask what can be done to make it better right then and there. You immediately get credit for bravery as well as thinking on your feet. One of two things usually happens. Your audience will refocus and say you should just carry on, or a real suggestion will come forward for you to work with. Either way you can still work in your points, while also incorporating the suggestion.
Introduce a new sound/idea/visual: When I know I am in front of a noisy, distracted dinner setting, at an awards ceremony for example, I will bring up a piece of glassware and a spoon. Just clink them together in front of the microphone and you’ll see a magical affect. The next thing you know, there is silence. You can do the same with a surprise visual, tucked away in your slide deck. Or how about just asking everyone to stand up and stretch?
We live in a distracted world. Instead of being upset, have a plan and you’ll handle one of the most common challenges you can face.
Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.