I wouldn’t consider myself to be someone who always wants to be the center of attention, but my job often puts me in that position. Don’t get me wrong here, I like it! Some people like being at the front of the room, all eyes on them, while others prefer to be more part of the background. It became clear to me early in life that I wasn’t one to shy away from attention, but, maybe more importantly, I always seem to keep the attention of my audience.
My brother ended up being the one who went into performing arts, which surprised our parents given that he was less outgoing than I was when we were children. I admire that he can get in front of a room and start singing his heart out, strumming away some self-taught tune on his guitar and how he can travel with his cast mates and perform in live theater productions. As much as I love to sing and write songs, I don’t have it in me to get on stage and ‘perform.’
So, you’re wondering now how I manage to have a captive audience. I have what I consider dueling careers. I’m a soccer referee, which, if I’m being honest, if I could, that would be the only job I’d have for the rest of my life. It’s a passion and a big commitment. It also means that, at least for 90 minutes at a time, I’m the authority on the field. All 22 players on the field and everyone in the technical areas, even my ARs know that the referee is in control of the match. When I blow the whistle, use my voice, show a card, the eyes are on me.
My other career is my ‘day job’ where I have a variety of roles but the one that applies here is that I train different groups of people. Sometimes I train other staff members, but mostly I train new customers using a few different avenues. Much of the training my company does is via online meeting software, but I’m lucky enough to get to travel and do trainings or sales demonstrations in front of a group. The audience tends to be focused and ready to learn, mostly because if they aren’t, they’ll suffer later by not being fully informed.
A Mandy Moment
Recently, I was performing a multi-day set of training sessions and, quite honestly, for the first time in my role as a trainer, they weren’t paying attention. I found this pretty odd considering this might have been one of the largest projects I’ve worked on in this role and, the project meant even more to the participants. I was half way across the country in a room with nearly a dozen people, several more were connected remotely, and I was talking to myself. As a mother of two small children, I have ways of gaining attention back, but felt pretty strange about having to get stern with a group of adults who really needed to learn the material I was trying to show them.
How did I handle it? Maybe not that well at first. A few times I would hear the conversations start up around the room, see the younger people staring intently at their phones and I would stop talking. Some attentive folks would be urging me to continue, but I simply waited for the, quite frankly rude behaviour to stop. Other times, I would just speak louder. By the end of the first day, I debriefed with my coworker and we both just shook our heads regarding how inattentive some people were.
By the end of the second day, I think my frustration started to show. Some one had the nerve to chat with their neighbour throughout an entire section and then ask me a question that was directly stated and answered in the last paragraph I spoke. I may have sounded rude, and maybe I wanted it to sound rude, but I made sure to point out that I covered that topic already and just summarized it “a moment ago,” before providing them with a answer.
On the last day, my time was more limited. I had a flight to catch late in the afternoon, so there was no time to repeat or delay any of the scheduled topics of discussion. So I did it. I pulled out all my Mom Secrets. I used The Look. This was effective because another mom in the room recognized it instantly and spoke up to the group. Then, I used The Voice. This was effective because it’s unmistakable that you’ve crossed a line. Finally, the room was quiet. I took that opportunity to explain our time crunch and the importance of the training we needed to cover and asked that everyone pay close attention.
We managed to roll through that last day with time to spare for Q & A at the end. I didn’t think I’d need to use those kinds of tactics with a group of adults, but, it’s a lesson I’ve definitely learned the hard way!
As you can see from the Mandy Moment I experienced recently, having people pay attention to you is not something to take for granted. Looking back on it now, I can think of things I’ve learned and things I would have done differently. As usual, I’d like to share my learning points so that maybe you won’t run into the same troubles I did!
- Provide an agenda in advance whenever possible – this helps ensure that everyone is aware of the amount of material to be covered and can make special notes for themselves, making their learning experience more meaningful.
I like an agenda with approximate timings for each topic.
Keep similar topics together when possible.
Use the audience’s terminology where applicable.
- Use a good introduction – this isn’t always easy, especially if someone else is introducing you. Make sure to prepare a good intro for yourself and allow for both scenarios so you know you won’t miss mentioning something important. Your introduction should be short and to the point, after all, you have an agenda to follow.
“Thanks, Mr. Doe for the introduction. I’m glad to be here with you today. As Mr. Doe explained, I’m here today to discuss… but first I’d like to say a few words about our organization.”
“Good morning everyone. I’m so glad to be here with you today. As you may or may not know, I’m here today to discuss… but first I’d like to say a few words about our organization.”
- Stress the importance of your presentation – no matter what you’re about to say, it’s important, otherwise you wouldn’t be there to say it. Tell the audience what you’re going to cover with the agenda, introduce yourself to begin and then relate what you’re saying to the people sitting in front of you. Don’t take for granted that they understand the importance of what you’re about to say.
“Changing your business practice is never something to take lightly, so today’s training will allow for an easy transition for all involved.”
“My goal here today is to work with this group to ensure you’ll be able to take this information back to your staff/department/team and be able to support their needs.”
“Today we’re going to cover a few critical topics” or “policy decisions.”
- Keep on topic – it’s natural to stray off the beaten path from time to time, and, sometimes you can allow that, but know when to draw the line and reel them back in. You know your material, so refer to an item on the agenda later on in the presentation that will shed light on the issue and move on as scheduled.
“There’s obviously some good discussion happening here, but let’s wait until we get to that item in the agenda later this afternoon. We’ll probably have a better discussion after covering the topic together.”
“Since we have a lot to cover this afternoon, lets save questions on that topic until later when we get to that.”
“That’s a great question and I do plan to address it, let’s make a note to come back to that because I don’t want to confuse the issue at hand.”
- Ask them to pay attention – this is another one that may seem silly, but we can’t assume that everyone will listen, or care, while you’re talking. If you start off the presentation by asking them politely but firmly to pay attention (try the ol’ “I’m asking but it’s not really a question” tone), they are more likely to take you seriously and, at least at first, give you their focus.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we have a lot of material to cover throughout these meetings, so I’ll just ask that we keep our focus on the agenda items.”
“I know we’re not at the movies, but if everyone could just make sure their phone’s are put away, that would be great.”
“Please be sure to put the phones away, but at lunch time, someone has to update give me a World Cup update!”
So, to answer my own question, “Why won’t you pay attention to me?” It’s probably because I didn’t ask you to.