Dear Effective Communicator:

Help!

I finished what I thought was a great presentation, but when I looked at the room, almost everyone was looking at their phones! Some people didn’t even realize I’d finished my presentation. Can I blame this on their attention deficit or am I doing something wrong?

Sincerely,

Invisible in the Board Room

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Dear Invisible:

It sounds like you might have a problem sticking the landing. While we can’t promise our advice will make you Captain Sully (talk about sticking the landing!) we can give you a few pointers to keep your colleagues at attention when rubber hits the river.

But first: There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s normal for people to drift off during a presentation. Your overworked colleagues have a lot competing for their attention. A little downtime gives them the chance to start thinking about the next item on the agenda. Attention is a scarce resource after all.

1. Your introduction is the blueprint for your conclusion.

While we appreciate the elegance of a presentation that ends as it began, there’s good evidence for the practice. Social science researchers call it the primacy and recency effect. This effect refers to the human mind’s tendency to remember the first and last things we hear. The same principle applies to presenting. Put the most important information at the beginning and end of your speech. It might seem repetitive. But unlike streaming an online video, your colleagues can’t hit rewind when they zone out.

2. Be bold when concluding your presentation.

In conclusion. To conclude. In summary. With the two minutes I have left. To wrap it up. These words prompt your audience to get off their phones and pay attention again. Once you have their attention, share your conclusion (and if you followed the first tip they’ll be primed for it)

3. Say thanks and invite questions from the audience.

It is your responsibility to make the presentation as intelligible as possible, but your audience has to do their part, too. If after following these steps you still hear crickets, say thanks and invite questions.

Here's an Example:

You might not stick the landing quite like Captain Sully, but you'll come close by following these three pointers.

You got this,

The Effective Communicator


 


Have a question? Text the Effective Communicator at 724.677.6830.

The Effective Communicator is Isaac Holyoak and Mari Ransco.

Isaac Holyoak leads communication for University of Utah Health Medical Group. He received a Master’s in Rhetoric from the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University and taught speech, argumentation, and debate to undergraduates in Indiana and Texas in his pre-healthcare life.

Mari Ransco is the managing editor of Accelerate. She received a Master’s in Education Policy and History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and taught instructional design and communication skills at University of Utah Health.