Distractions, distractions, distractions! We’ve all seen, heard or been a distraction. But have you ever given thought to how to handle your audience when they’re distracted? When they lost focus?
What if your audience member all of a sudden pulls out their Smartphone to check email or Facebook while you’re about to make your most crucial point?
Do you let that throw you off? Or do you ignore it? Or worse do you stop and down-dress that person right in front of everyone?
You shouldn’t see distracted audience members as a threat, but instead as an opportunity. An opportunity for you shine as a professional. Here are 5 tips to handling distractions like a pro.
- Pick your battles. If you go after every distracted audience member, you’ll be spending more time putting out fires than giving your speech. In fact, you don’t need to. You’ll always have someone fidgeting for something. Focus on the majority who are focused on you and ensure that they receive the best-delivered speech that you can possibly give. Over time, you’ll find ways to bring that member back to your attention.
- Include that audience member. When I teach a class and see a student on Facebook, I might make the next hands on exercise about Facebook. Such as, write a computer program to ask the user for their next Facebook status update. Or, in a humanities class, what do you think is the impact will be if Colleges limit their short answer test questions to 140 character Twitter messages? This will bring not just the one distracted member, but others as well in the audience.
- Never attack or down dress that member. You might be thinking, “how dare you not listen to me” but never act on it. Never give dirty looks or do anything to make your audience member feel defensive or bad. In a confrontational situation, you will always come out the loser!
- Lecture less, do more. If you talk a lot, you’re going to tune out your audience. At some point, their attention will falter. Instead of going on and on, introduce a relevant activity. Note I said relevant because irrelevant activities will leave your audience members confused. By introducing an activity, your audience will come out of autopilot mode and start thinking for themselves. The activity should be “applied” meaning, if you’re giving a discussion on how to write an introduction to a speech, then you should have an activity that involves doing so. The shorter the time spent between discussing a point and having an activity to apply that point, the better it will be learned.
- Repetition. Repeating your words every so often will help to reinforce your message. But I also find that it is useful for helping those that were briefly distracted to at least come away with the point I was trying to make a moment ago. For example, saying, “Make sure you add no more than a quarter cup of milk to the mix, otherwise, the batter will be too runny. Again, make sure you add no more than a quarter cup of milk to the mix, otherwise, the batter will be too runny.” does not make you sound silly, nor does it make you sound amateurish. Instead, you’ve added emphasis to your point. As well, if someone was momentarily distracted, adding repetition wakes up the distracted person and brings them back because all of a sudden they’re thinking “whoa, something important is being emphasized, I don’t want to miss this.”
- See it as a challenge and rise up to the occasion. A distracted audience member is a good thing. It allows you to test your mettle and improve your speaking ability. You may not do anything the first few times but after a while, you’ll find nifty ways to include those who have lost focus. So rise up to the occasion.
So there you have it, six approaches to handling distracted audience members. Pay particular attention to the last point and rise up to the occasion. Learn and keep learning and you’ll eventually be handling distractions like a pro.
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