I just received yet another invitation to play a game on Facebook.  I know whip-smart people with graduate degrees who buy virtual tractors for their Farmville pasture.  And my neighbor, who by day is the head of a successful company, is hooked on Angry Birds.  Americans have spent three billion hours playing online games, all in the pursuit of that “epic win.”

What does this tell us about the average audience in 2012? Do speakers have to wear bright colors and wave shiny objects to capture their attention?  Must we create MTV-like visuals that change every ½ second?  Consider that the average attention span is approximately seven seconds. That means that every seven seconds, someone in your audience has taken a mental vacation. Hopefully heart surgeons have a longer time frame.

Successful speakers have a few tricks up their sleeves to deal with this problem and here they are for you to steal (I’ll make it quick!):

  1. Pause more often.  Each time you pause silently, you give your audience a chance to catch up and check back in.
  2. Use anecdotes, examples and vivid language.  One of my clients changed the word “mean” to “diabolical” and she swears it caught the attention of half the room.
  3. Ask and solicit questions.  If there is any way you can get some sort of interaction with your audience, do it. Early and often. The ‘sit ‘n git’ syndrome should be relegated to seminars entitled “What You Need to Know About Medicare Part B.”
  4. Use humor.  I don’t mean tell a joke, if that’s not your thing. Rather, find a way to lighten up.
  5. Decrease distractions. If you can, ask your audience to put away the cell phones and i-Pads.  At a minimum you may limit the total number of minutes your audience stops listening.

My hunch is you are about ready to mentally and physically move onto something else so I will just say thanks for reading, and keep striving for that epic win.

– Barbara