In theatrical improvisation training, there is a truly devastating exercise involving audience attention. You stand on the stage. The other improvisation students are standing in front of you. The teacher instructs you to tell a story, and tells the other students to sit down the moment they have lost interest. They must be brutally honest, without sparing your feelings. Once everybody sits, you have to stop telling the story. The goal is to see how long you can keep your audience standing.
Going through this exercise makes you realize what a dull person you can be. You are astonished at how soon people sit down, often within seconds, regardless of how much they like you as a person or admire your skills. Even the most brilliant performers struggle with this exercise. The audience is looking for reasons to not be interested, and they easily find those reasons.
Keeping audience attention can be just as difficult during a business presentation, where time is money, and people want to know how you’re going to solve their problems, or at least entertain them enough to make that rubber chicken luncheon worthwhile. Sure, the audience won’t sit down (they’re already sitting), but the odds are they won’t remember most of what you’ve said.
Applied to a business presentation or interview, the improv exercise would happen something like this:
You say, “Hello, my name is X.” Several people sit.
“I’m going to talk about the X project.” A third of the audience sits.
“This was a really exciting project.” Everybody except one person sits.
“After that, I’m going to discuss the X project.” The last person sits. You’re done. You’ve failed miserably. Your presentation was devastating every imaginable way.
The next time you’re preparing a presentation, keep this exercise in mind. How will you grab attention from the very start of your presentation, so that nobody is tempted to “sit down?”
Check out this post from Fast Company that might be of some help.