Is Anyone Listening?
One thing I notice about many of today’s public speakers is they don’t know how to stay focused. They start out strong with a great opening, but as the presentation goes on, their message gets lost in a maze of irrelevant information.
Learning good public speaking skills can improve this common problem and save you the frustration of looking out onto an audience that’s obviously disengaged and not listening.
When You Know How to Stay Focused, the Audience Follows
I’m sure you’ve attended at least one presentation in your life where you struggled to stay focused on the speaker. Maybe you had a lot on your mind at the time and it prevented you from concentrating on what was being said. More than likely, though, the speaker himself was distracting.
There have been plenty of times I stopped listening during a presentation simply because I couldn’t keep up with the person giving it. There was no flow to the information coming at me; one minute the presenter was talking about one thing and then he completely switched directions to talk about something else.
Staying focused on your presentation shouldn’t be work for your audience. If it is, they’ll just stop listening.
Whatever the topic, it’s critical that your core message doesn’t get lost, so lead by example. If you know how to stay focused on your message, you will keep your listeners focused on it too.
Make The Commitment
I bet you don’t even realize how often, or how far off topic, you stray when you’re giving a presentation. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve seen a speaker get thrown off-topic:
- He answered a question from the audience that was unrelated to the presentation
- He made a mistake and panicked
- There was a technical glitch in his PowerPoint presentation
- He was unprepared to start with
When you know how to stay focused, making a mistake or experiencing a technical hiccup won’t derail your presentation. When you know how to stay focused, you are committed to getting your message out to the audience, no matter what.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore your audience’s questions or refuse to answer one if it’s not directly related to your topic. Audience engagement plays an important role in keeping your listeners focused, too.
So, what should you do if an audience member asks a question that will lead you away from the point of your presentation?
First, thank them for the question. Not only is it good manners on your part, but by asking a question, they’re showing you they’re interested (and listening) to you. If what they’re asking doesn’t fit perfectly with what you’re talking about at the moment, you can do one of several things:
- Offer to circle back to their question at the end of the presentation
- Offer to connect with them after the presentation to answer their question
- Make a note of the question and find a way to tie the answer to a key point in your presentation
That last one is tricky. It requires you to know how to think on your feet and reconfigure your presentation, while you’re delivering it, without losing focus. It’s one of the more complex public speaking skills to master, but it’s not impossible.
What Are You Really Trying to Say?
Let’s talk about how to keep you (and your audience) focused on your core message.
Most importantly, create a solid outline for your presentation, one that is built entirely around your message. (If you don’t know what your message is, you should probably start there, first!)
What are you trying to tell your audience? Why do they need to hear it? What will happen (or should happen) when you’re finished?
Let’s say you’re a car salesman speaking to a young person buying their first new car. What’s the message you want to get across?
“Buy this car?”
“You need this car?”
“I want to help you find a vehicle that’s perfect for you?”
When you know what the message is, you can build a presentation that focuses on that message—and use public speaking skills that get your message across effectively. If you’re the car salesman whose message is “Buy this car,” the words you choose are going to be very different from the ones you’d use if your message was “I want to help you find a vehicle that’s perfect for you.”
With a clear message at the center of your presentation, it’s much easier to stay focused—for you and for your audience.
How To Stay Focused When You’re Pressed for Time
William Penn, the 18th century philosopher and entrepreneur once said: “Time is what we want most… but what we use worst.”
When your presentation time is limited, it can make it difficult to stay focused because you want to make sure you say everything that needs to be said.
Going back to our car salesman example, what do you suppose you’d say to a potential buyer if you knew you only had three or four minutes to tell them about the vehicles in the showroom?
Hopefully, you’d tell them the most important or pertinent information about the vehicles that were:
- In their price range
- Best suited to their needs
- Models they were interested in
The same is true of any presentation. Don’t squander your time providing extraneous information that doesn’t tie into your core message. It’s distracting and it’s a waste of precious time.
A car salesman wouldn’t spend five minutes explaining to a customer how a standard combustion engine works unless that information was going to somehow benefit the customer. But he would spend five minutes pointing out the comfort or luxury features of a vehicle. Every car has an engine; not all of them have heated leather seats and a remote start. As a consumer, which would you rather hear about?
Stay focused on your message. Once you start wandering off-topic, your listener stops being interested.
Learn To Stay Focused With Public Skills Training
Knowing the importance of staying focused is not the same as knowing how to stay focused. Like all good public speaking skills, being able to keep your presentation on track takes effort and practice.
Could your public speaking skills use some work? If you have trouble identifying your core message and staying focused, we can help. Contact us today to find out about our public speaking training workshops or connect with us through our social media channels.