First and foremost, you must deal effectively with your own emotions, ego, hang-ups, inhibitions, and fears. This will release you to focus on the audience is their attention level. A trainer must prepare thoroughly, believe in the message behind the words, and be committed to attaining his or her objective. But most important is a continual awareness of the audience members as individual persons, and not as merely a faceless mass.
There is only one way to find out whether or not an audience is paying attention. That is to look at them, not through them. The best way is to look at individual faces and directly into their eyes. This reveals whether they are looking and listening, and forces them to do so if their attention has wandered. A trainer should make every effort to get and hold eye contact with the audience, since it is the only way to talk directly to people. This may be difficult with larger groups. Sometimes it is necessary to concentrate only on the first few rows and use them to gauge the rest. Yet it is possible with a little practice to look into the eyes of people fairly far back even in a large audience, or to make them sense eye contact.
During a presentation, if possible, physically arrange the audience so that they're less distracted by late arrivals. Try to group them so that there is a minimum of space between them. Do not permit guests to remain on the podium during delivery. While setting up and choosing a room, remain aware of audience comfort-ventilation, heat, and cooling. Eliminate unnecessary material from the podium such as flowers, signs, or unused equipment. Keep visuals covered unless they are actually in use. Keep the chalkboard clean. Check lighting to be sure that it focuses on the podium and directly on the speaker. The podium should be the best lit spot in the room. Dress conservatively and impeccably. Be pleasant to look at! Do not wear highly reflective colors or jewelry. Stay on schedule so that the audience will not be distracted by time pressures.
Gauges of how well an audience is listening are such things as shuffling feet, movement, scribbling, and general restlessness. All of these must be circumvented if you are to get and maintain attention.
You can deliberately elicit feedback to provide data to measure your progress through the use of "predetermined response points". An example is the "double-answer" technique, recognizable in many sales presentations, which essentially asks a question that gives a choice between two "yes" answers with no negative responses. Such questions can be subtly interwoven into a training presentation without a trainee being aware of the affirmative net being woven. For example, "Do you like the first method of time management or the second better?" or "Which long-term range planning goals would best suit your office?"
Keeping control of your audience and eliciting honest feedback will help your presentation in the long run.
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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.