Keeping Their Attention
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All the great material in the world presented with perfect and appropriate visual aids won’t help your audience if they’re asleep or distracted. You have an obligation to keep your attendees alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic.
Stimulate All Their Senses
Different people learn best in different ways. Some people learn best through reading the printed word. Others prefer to learn by listening. Still others want to watch a visual presentation.
During your presentation, you also need to stimulate as many of your participants’ senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) to be most effective.
As you design the content for your seminar, try to find a way to stimulate all of these senses. Don’t try to force it. If it makes sense to use them, fine. If not, don’t work too hard to find a way to work each one in. Keep in mind, though, that the more of them you can stimulate, the more likely you are to teach something to everyone in your audience.
People Love Lists
Whether it’s the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” or “101 Ways to Keep Your Man Happy,” people love lists.
People find it easy to learn when you give them a very specific number of things that they either should or shouldn’t do. I can’t tell you with certainty why this is the case, but I suspect it’s because people like being given a very specific set of instructions on what to do or what not to do.
Give people lists of dos and don’ts , steps to take, items to memorize, and key summary points where appropriate in your presentations.
Great stories can significantly improve your seminars. Many people are born story-tellers. Others can learn to tell them effectively. Unlike jokes (which there are some people who decidedly can not learn to tell), everyone can learn to tell a story well enough to be interesting.
There are a few points to remember when you tell stories.
Never invent stories or steal them from other speakers and claim them as your own. Not only is it unethical, but the story won’t flow like it’s truly yours. Why? Because it’s not! There are plenty of real-life experiences that you can share that will turn into great “signature” stories after you perfect them.
Keep a story file. Every time something interesting, instructive or amusing happens to you, write it down. Put your stories into a story file by category on your computer. When you put your seminar modules together, look through these files and see which ones fit.
If you don’t write down a story, you’ll probably forget it pretty quickly, so protect yourself by putting everything down on paper.
To be effective, unless you’re a natural, practice telling the story repeatedly. It is seldom that a great story emerges when told for the first time. It takes time to perfect them.
If you want to be funny, tell stories, not jokes. If you tell a joke and it flops, everyone will know it. If you tell a story that you think is funny and nobody laughs, it’s just a story. No one will know that you intended it to be funny.
Remember that different people are funny to different degrees. Don’t try to be funnier than you are.
Stories aren’t just told to amuse. They are told to instruct and illuminate. Don’t feel that every story you tell has got to have your seminar attendees rolling in the aisles. (If this happens, however, you would probably have a great career as a humorist or after-dinner speaker.)
Get People Moving
Sitting in seminars and workshops can get tiring. Find ways to get people up and moving around during your events, but do so with a purpose.
One way to do this is to ask your group a multiple-choice question with 4 possible answers. Ask people to answer the question by going to a particular corner of the room. This gets people up and moving around, but with a very specific purpose.
Please don’t let me catch you doing any of those tired and ridiculous exercises where you ask people to get up and give their neighbor a neck massage. Not only is this exercise overdone, it’s stupid! Some people don’t like strangers touching them and it doesn’t prove a point.
Another physical exercise that works very well to both give you information and get people up and moving around is this technique.
You ask your audience members questions. If the answer is true they stand up. If false, they stay seated. You can get a survey of your audience as well as give them some physical activity using this effective technique.
Breaking People into Groups
If you’ve got the time, consider breaking your attendees into groups to do some exercises. Whenever I have the opportunity to do this at events the evaluations are noticeably higher. I also think that retention is higher.
Try to keep your groups to between four and six members. Anything higher or lower doesn’t work nearly as well. If you’re using round tables, this is easy to do. If people are sitting theatre style or some other way, put the ball in their court.
Announce to the people that they must arrange themselves into groups in 30 seconds or less and not have more than 2 people from the same company or organization in one group. If you want, you can add other qualifiers. You could, for example, ask them to make sure they have both genders represented.
After you create the group in this manner, then have them choose a group leader. Give them the criteria to do this. Tell them that the group leader is the person who is the shortest member of the group or the youngest or the one with the darkest hair. It doesn’t matter, just make choosing a leader easy.
If you stay in groups for extended periods, it’s a good idea to switch group leaders every few hours, so as not to let one person monopolize the leadership role.
Use Exercises to Prove a Point
I’ve participated in a lot of seminars where the facilitator will have the attendees undertake an exercise that makes no sense. It might be fun and enjoyable, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense or make a point related to the topic.
Don’t follow this example. Make sure every exercise you do is not just interesting and amusing, but proves a point related to the information that you’re delivering.
It’s always better to have people discover the knowledge you want them to learn. Rather than giving out information or ideas in straight lecture form, give your group exercises where they will learn what you want them to know, on their own.
Doing this works much better because people get a greater sense of satisfaction if they are learning things on their own, rather than you just giving them the information. Study after study proves people remember longer that which they do themselves.
I’ve seen Fortune 500 company presidents down on the ground playing with Legos. Adults tend to learn best when they’re learning like kids. Don’t worry if you create an exercise that seems juvenile.
Frequent Breaks Pay Big Dividends
I went to a seminar a week before writing this section. It was a weekend seminar and the seminar leader went as long as two hours without giving us a break. Your bladder may be that strong, but your audience members need a break at a minimum of every 90 minutes. I prefer short mini-breaks every hour or so.
This is why most college classes run 50 minutes. People can’t absorb more information than that at one time. Educators have determined this is the ideal length of time for people to assimilate information. Follow their lead.
If you have to cram a lot of information into a short period of time, I understand. I do the same. Just make sure to give people short breaks to keep their attention.
The biggest issue for most seminar leaders is getting people back into the room quickly when you do a break. You can get around this by training people early in your event. If you give your first break for “six minutes” make sure that you go out into the halls (if that’s how you’re set up) and give people a shout. Then start going at exactly six minutes from having announced your break, even if you have to shout at first to be heard over the din of people who are still on break. If you are giving people great information, people won’t want to miss a minute of what you have to say.
If you ignore this rule you’ll get hurt in evaluations and in product sales as well. Remember your over-riding goals: to get great evaluations and to sell a ton of product. Take breaks and keep people comfortable. It will keep people buying as well.