How to Keep an Audience Engaged and Thinking by Being Subtle.
(Lucia’s photo-a-day, 17 of 365).
There are many mistakes a presenter can make that will cause an audience to disconnect. Many! Strangely, one reason might be that you may be working to hard to keep that connection. Sometimes presenters whack their audiences over the head, feeding information in with a shovel and pounding it down with an avalanche of supporting data. All this effort may, in fact, turn your audience off. All that effort may make the audience feel like you think they are slow on the uptake, not smart enough to get the information you are hurling at them. This is, I suppose, a variation on the adage, “never look down on your audience”.
Instead, some of the time, try subtlety. Ease up on the info hose. Assume that your audience has the smarts to work with you. Credit them with the ability to absorb ideas that aren’t force fed to them. Allow them to participate in discovering your message. As I suggested in the previous blog on humor, an audience will make a commitment to a concept if they are allowed and encouraged to think about it, puzzle it through, get it on their own. I am not suggesting that your message should be obtuse or obscure – that is counter productive. I am suggesting that you speak in a whisper instead of a shout. Get your audience to lean in and pay careful attention.
A subtle message, to use a basketball metaphor, isn’t a flashy slam dunk from an alley-oop pass, but rather a quiet lay up made after three or four pin-point passes. Your audience may be puzzled at first by a subtlety, but that is good. You’ve got them thinking. And they will follow you with interest to the “aha” moment. And an “aha” moment is one that will stick with them because it awakened something in the mind. Any variation on “now I see” or “oh, that’s what is happening here”, is a greatly desired outcome in a presentation. Sometimes it is better to teach than to preach.
Why did I choose Lucia’s photo to illustrate this concept? First, there is nothing flashy about her photo. It has a nearly monochromatic color palette. There is, however, a streak of pinkish red bushes that rise in a ragged line up through the brown meadow. The line divides the meadow into two halves, a foreground and a background. It also brings the eye across the photo, sweeping from left to right. Without the line created by the bushes, this would be a dull photo indeed. But with it, subtle though it is, the photo comes alive. What does it allow the photo to speak about: slow increase, separation, guided vision. All sorts of possibilities that can engage a thinking brain.
Subtle is powerful.
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