Here I am again. I'm standing in front of a crowded room. Aside from the sound of my heart beating in my ears, it's quiet. This time, 700 eyes are fixed on me. Yesterday it was 70. Doesn't matter. It feels the same regardless of the number. I'm literally standing in the midst of what many (not me) would describe as their worst nightmare. I'm that guy. "The speaker". The guy in the front of the room. You stare at me, and for a brief time, I take a deep breath and stare back. In the space between silence and speech, a thought enters my stream of consciousness. It's been the same thought for the last 15 years. I had it as a classroom teacher, I have it now, I'll have it again if you see me one day standing in front of you. The thought is simple. I have 8 seconds. Exhale...go!
Anyone can stand in front of a group of people and speak. The privilege of speaking resides not in the platform, but in the notion that an audience should feel compelled to listen to anything we have to say for any length of time. Scholars tell me I have about 8 seconds to capture and hold your attention; to convince you that I can offer you something of value. 8 seconds to keep you from reaching for your phone. 8 seconds to keep you off your email. 8 seconds to to access the privilege of your attention. My platform is a gift. Your presence was never guaranteed. Offering you something of value is my responsibility.
First, I need to make it abundantly clear; I wish I had longer. Lord, I wish I had longer. But as my old man used to say, "You can wish in one hand, and ..." You know how it goes. Wishing for something that is currently contrary to my reality doesn't do any of us any good. It leaves me angry with the audience, and the audience with another sense of dissatisfaction from having their time squandered. As such, I do what I ask my own children to do when they bump up against the adversities of life. I address the challenge at hand. I do my best within the confines of my current reality, and focus only on those elements that are within my control. I employ all of the knowledge that I can have, along with all that I can borrow, to be my best. My work is my signature. I can't control your attention span. But I can certainly control my efforts to capture it. And I promise you...I'm about to give it all I have.
For the teachers out there. The school administrators. The managers. The pastors and priests. For anyone who is fortunate enough to have an audience. I invite you to embrace the privilege of speaking; whether you have an audience every day, every week, or once every year. I invite you to embrace the 8 second window. To challenge yourself to be of such value and quality, that those in your presence find themselves recognizing unequivocally the need to lean in, look, and listen long past the 8 second mark.
How do we do it?
Know your audience. Moreover, know your message and its connectivity to your audience. Speak that message with passion and conviction. As the speaker, we have to speak with 110% passion if we want participants to embrace it at 90% of our own. If we play at 80%, we give participants permission to participate at 50%. Tick tock. At 50% enthusiasm, we won't make it 8 seconds Cowboys and Cowgirls.
Plan a moment early on to capture their attention. Use that moment to transition with purpose to your message. Work with participants to label important elements of learning in the message. Assist them as they synthesize this information and discern where in their own lives and experiences this information is applicable. Then, provide opportunities for them to show understanding, mastery, and ability to apply this new knowledge to a variety of situations. If this entire cycle is taking you longer than 15 to 20 minutes, you're taking too long. Say less to them, do more with them, and work to repeat this cycle, depending on the length of your presentation.
You can do this. Take a deep breath. 8 seconds. Exhale...go!
The ATLAS Model:
Attention - Presenters use purposeful strategies to immediately capture and hold an audience's attention.
Transition - Use the initial moment of attention to transition to the root of your message.
Label - Work with participants to label the key elements of learning you want them to take away. What the "phrase that pays"? What's the one thing you want everyone to walk away with? Drive it home here.
Assist - Allow participants time to engage with the content. How can they get their hands on it? How will you assist them? How will they assist each other on the path to understanding?
Show - Participants should be afforded the opportunity to show you and each other that they can take this new learning and apply it elsewhere.