The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Can we be successful as a presenter if we don’t connect with our audience? Many presenters believe this simply is not needed, that this connecting lark is rather fluffy and irrelevant—because content is king. To them, the delivery is a sideshow, a trifle, a distraction from the main game. Solid, high-value information—backed up with verifiable data—is the mother lode. This is not true.

Solid, verifiable data delivered in a disinterested monotone while looking down at reams of notes on the podium is a communication killer. No matter how good the goods are, it is not much help if no one is getting your message. Why aren’t they getting it? Because they are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and LINE instead.

We cannot be so arrogant as to imagine our content can carry the day in this age of distraction. The younger generations are going to be the future business audience from hell. They are growing up totally distracted, with the concentration span of a dazed gnat. They have an addiction to being in touch with each other all the time and unapologetically reach for their escape vehicle—their phone—in a heartbeat.

If you are looking down at your notes, then you are missing the most valuable data. Watch your audience like a hawk. If you see them disappearing under the desk, scrolling through their devices, then you can kiss your message goodbye. Look them right in the eye. Do it for six seconds. Why six? Less is not enough time to connect. Any longer becomes intrusive.

The math on that calculation is simple. Six seconds means 10 people per minute. A 40-minute speech means we are constantly using eye contact to connect with 400 faces. Some will be the same faces, depending on the size of the audience. In a large audience, we may think we cannot connect with everyone; but we can. Those seated far from us will imagine we are looking at them. The actual person we are looking at—and the 20 people sitting around them—all believe we are talking directly to them. Our object should be to speak one-on-one to every person in the audience.

But, Greg! In Japan, we don’t make eye contact! Not true. Sure, in a typical business meeting, continuous eye contact will burn out the retinas of our Japanese counterparts. But, a presentation is not the same thing. It presents a different role for us, and we need to play the bigger game of being persuasive. To do so means we must bring our full armory to the cause, to battle listener distraction and attempts to escape.

Divide the audience into as many as six sectors, depending on the size. A smaller audience might become just three. The point is to ensure that we visually rove across the audience and speak to every single person. We are not looking at the projection screen, our laptop monitor, the back wall, the front row, or only one side of the room. We are circulating in a random fashion around the audience, trying to draw them into the web of our message.

We can read their faces for reaction to what we are saying. This allows us to respond by varying our delivery, by using tone of voice, questions, and silence to keep them in the room with us.

When we do this, the audience members feel more closely connected to us. They feel as if they are being spoken to directly, and they feel flattered.

If we have their attention, we have a chance of getting our message across. Even if they cannot remember all that we said, they will never forget us. Getting both would be a wonderful result, but getting one is better than being totally forgettable—like most speakers.

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If you are looking down at your notes, then you are missing the most valuable data.