3×7 tips to rivet people when you present (F!RST framework – part 1: Focus attention)

How this series can help you

Football Player

When presenting, you likely already know how hard it is to keep people’s attention. After all, distractions like their mobile phone, email, or even just their thoughts are rarely far away.

(For context, please see the overview of the F!RST framework)

In this series of posts, you’ll find 3 “core tips” you can use to keep your audience riveted to your talk. Those core tips include over 20 clear-cut actions you can take, with examples of how you can apply them. So, you’ll keep your audience far more engaged, making it much easier for you to persuade them and to achieve your talk’s goal.


What’s in the rest of this post?


Why focus attention?

In the overview of this series, I wrote:

When you begin preparing a presentation, the first thing to do is to focus attention – your own. And naturally when you come to actually present, you also need to focus (and keep) your audience’s attention.

Let’s look at why you need to focus your own attention, as well as your audience’s.

Why your own attention?

When you prepare a talk, it’s likely you focus on these 3 things, often in this order:

  • Your slides – also known as “design”
  • What you’ll say – “content”
  • How you’ll say it – “delivery”

You might be unwittingly focusing on “you, you, you”

Seems to cover all bases, eh? In fact, if you focus on design, content and delivery, you might be unwittingly focusing on “you, you, you” (your slides, what you’ll say, how you’ll say it), and ignoring your audience’s vital role. I say “vital” because to reach your goal, it’s your audience who must act – by actually doing what your talk suggests.

So rather than focusing on design, content and delivery as such, I suggest you focus most on your audience – and changing your approach like that takes focus in itself! As Nancy Duarte wrote in slide:ology:

“Letting go is a process, and it takes practice.
And yes, possibly falling down.”
Nancy Duarte

But don’t worry – in this part of the F!RST framework, you’ll get detailed tips on when, where, and how to focus.

Why your audience’s attention?

Of course, if your audience isn’t focused on your talk, it’ll fail. Yet there’ve never been more distractions – face-to-face, and especially online (from the iPhone, BlackBerry, or laptop that’s usually at people’s fingertips).

What’s more, audiences have seen a few great presentations, like in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or in books by the likes of Garr Reynolds. Yet audiences watch dire presentations daily. So, faced with that sharp contrast, people are unforgiving of mediocre work.

That’s why it’s certainly tough being a presenter, but thankfully this series helps you win out!


3 core tips to focus attention – just Aim

Using the acronym Aim makes it much easier to focus attention. It stands for the 3 core tips or goals mentioned at the start of this post, which are:

Answering people’s key question is the best way to focus their attention

(In Aim, the A is larger than the other 2 letters because answering people’s key question is the best way to focus their attention.)

Do look over the list of actions before you start work

So next, let’s look at the actions you can take to achieve those 3 goals. The actions are grouped into the 3 core tips, rather than being in a strict order, so do look over the list of actions (at the start of parts 1A, 1i and 1m) before you start work on your presentation. In particular, see Work out your words (and do it early) for tips on the order in which to approach your work.


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