Attempting to integrate technology into our communications serves to influence us in ways that we may not realize. We often hear that our time-starved audiences will not read emails of more than a paragraph, necessitating us being succinct in our written communications. Add in the popularity of texting and twitter and many come to believe that the best messages are those reduced to mere sound bites.
We hear so often that people's time and attention spans are in such short supply that we need to cut our communications to the chase, getting to the point as quickly as possible. I see this often when reviewing client's proposed speeches, where their talking points are more directed and their statements simply a sharing of final thoughts. In essence, people think that addressing the 'time and attention' issues are best given priority and they therefore focus on sharing their conclusions. The problem; shorter is not necessarily better.
What is lacking in people's messages today is a description of the journey. This is where the true meaning and learning in the messages is. What were the ups and downs, the trials, the tribulations? What did you experience that I can learn from? What were the hurdles you overcame that I can relate to? What were the fears you managed, the challenges you faced, the work-arounds you created?
By focusing on shortening the message to avoid 'losing' your audience you have lost the point. You have failed to engage me, connect with me or make me care. The journey is where your audience begins to understand why they should care, why what you have to share matters, why they should listen. People's attention spans may be short, which doesn't mean your messages need to be short but, rather, that they need to matter. Let people know why what you're sharing matters to them.
Instead of focusing on condensing your message into sound bites, focus on delivering your message in a more compelling way. Deliver it in a way that draws your audience in and makes them want to listen. Beyond ensuring that you highlight what's in it for them, use techniques that capture the minds and hearts of your audience.
- Variability. Vary your vocal speed, your volume and your inflection to draw your audience in. Switching things up keeps you from sounding monotone. If you sound boring the audience tends to think your content is also.
- Pauses. Use pauses to help vary your speed but also to punctuate what you are saying. Pause before and after you make important points to ensure your audience is listening fully to the point and has a chance to store it appropriately, helping them to remember it. Use pauses to direct attention to you and what you are saying or to build some anticipation and suspense.
- Gestures. Research clearly shows that speakers who use gestures are viewed more favourably and their content is remembered better. If they like you they will listen and having the audience remember your content is typically the point of giving a speech in the first place.
- Eye Contact. Engage your audience by using your eye contact to connect with them and draw them in. Look at your audience to have them feel part of the conversation.
- Stories. Use stories, analogies and examples that help make your content more relatable and memorable. Give the audience a mental image they can take away with them that moves them and creates meaning.
People may be being pulled in multiple directions, they may be overloaded and stressed out, but they are far more capable of listening then we give them credit for. Your job as a speaker is not to shorten and dumb down your messages but to work at your delivery, making it more interesting. Funnily enough, the more interesting you are the more interested your audience will prove to be.