How to Use the Law of Interest for Innovative Presentations

By Ray Anthony, Barbara Boyd

Why do people intently listen to or watch an innovative presentation with rapt attention or enthusiastically engage in an activity? Obviously because they want to. They’re interested and enjoy doing it. Simple as that.

When people lose interest, they lose attention, concentration, and focus and become bored or distracted. They start thinking of something else or vaguely daydream. At meetings, training workshops, presentations, and speeches, you see people whip out their smartphones or tablets and start to review their e-mails, send text messages, surf the web, or just work on something else.

Although some people try to be discreet, many engage in these activities with total disregard for how you may feel. What was once considered quite rude before the popular advent and use of addictive digital devices is now accepted as commonplace behavior in many organizational cultures.

However, research studies prove that a great majority of those multi-taskers who rationalize and justify their selective attention really cannot listen and do something else with equal effectiveness.

If you’re giving a presentation and attendees become mentally and emotionally detached, they can miss vital information that affects their decision making and possible desire to commit to what you are asking them to do, such as approve, support, buy, or endorse. They may misinterpret something because of attention gaps in their listening. It’s important that you strive to keep the interest level high for the person(s) listening or watching.

Use these tips to capture and hold the interest of as many in a smaller group or even larger audience as possible:

  • Do an effective audience analysis to determine the general makeup of the group so that you can personalize and tailor your talk to give them exactly what they need and want. Focus on the priorities your audience wants addressed.

  • Throughout your presentation, tell your audience how they will directly (personally or professionally or both) benefit from your talk. For example, say “I’m going to show each of you four things that promise to make your job easier, faster, and better. These will reduce your stress, hassles, and tedious workloads.”

  • Have as compelling and captivating a presentation introduction as you can. Set the bar high for what follows.

  • Get creative. If appropriate, use fun (but always professional) activities such as information guessing games, interactive exercises to get feedback, ideas, and recommendations based upon your presentation. At well-planned segues in your presentation, consider sending useful bits of topic-related trivia, photos, or illustrations from your tablet or laptop to their devices.

  • Ramp up your speech delivery technique. Show energy, enthusiasm, and dynamism to make it easier and more interesting to listen.

  • As much as you can, use stories to communicate fascinating and riveting facts, statistics, testimonials, research results, or analogies that apply to, are meaningful for, or engrossing to your audience. Give vivid examples that entertain, amuse, or emotionally affect people.

  • Use rhetorical, thought-provoking questions at specific junctures in your talk to reignite declining interest. Ask “Why should you be interested in knowing this?” or “What effect would it have if you began using this new process tomorrow — what three surprising differences would you discover right away?”

  • In a smaller group, use the teacher’s trick and call on a specific person (who seems to be inattentive or fixated on her device) to ask a relevant question or get feedback. Be subtle. By casually and randomly going around the room to stimulate discussion, you involve those who may have lost interest and will likely rejuvenate their flagging attention.

    Bear in mind that a distracted person may re-engage or may feel embarrassed or guilty for not contributing to the group discussion.

Sometimes people drift off because they don’t understand what you’re saying, so with a small group you can ask, “Does my point make sense to you?”