What's the magic verb? To focus!



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I am sure you have seen this before: meeting is starting, everyone have their laptop open, ready to jump in with valuable inputs and build a constructive discussion but…no… those tablets and especially the laptops are there to respond to emails, put the last touches on the presentation do be shown after the current speaker or better yet, browse the web for the results of yesterday’s game.

You are the presenter and you have to fight for attention from your audience to reach the goal that you have set for yourself for the next few minutes.

When asked, most of the audience participants will tell you that they are really listening and understanding all of what you are trying to convey because they are MASTERS IN MULTITASKING!

That’s the biggest lie people tell themselves and others!

Why do we think we can multitask?

We all think we can beat the clock by doing more than one thing simultaneously and think we are gaining time or look smarter; just tell me this hasn’t come to you mind more than once.
The fact is: the tools we are using are prompting us to multitask because we are constantly drawn to the last smartphone notification or because we are looking for a file on the laptop or taking meeting notes and see that a new email has just come in. Most of us just can’t resist the urge to do a “quick” check and, before you know it, the attention has been stolen away from that presentation you are still trying to give.

Please is the magic word and focus is the magic verb
When you ask everyone to “please focus” you would be expecting small talk to end, laptops to close, smartphone and tablets to go into “no disturb” mode and people to direct all their attention on you. If it isn’t the case, you can reckon with having lost a chunk of your audience after the first 5 minutes of your discussion or maybe much less:in a 2015 study done for Microsoft, it becomes evident that the human attention span has dramatically reduced to....8 seconds!

Okay, maybe you think that you can focus on a presentation for longer than this but be aware about how many things are coming through your mind as you read this short 5 minutes long article. One of the culprits: technology!

As technology tries to “unload” our brain from many things and reminds us about what we think is important to each of us, it is also bombarding us with so much information that we are working in a constant “interrupt” mode, balancing what is important, vital or just fun. The same applies at the workplace where open work areas have increased the amount of distraction one is submitted to.
Then we wonder why the new generations walk around with noise cancelling headphones, playing constantly some music to create a curtain of controlled sound to remove possible distractions from the living environment?

Back to...focusing!
So let’s focus again to our core discussion and evaluate what are the steps you can take to make your presentation (is it really?) successful:
  1. Is it a presentation or a discussion? A presentation should last maximum 15 minutes to a large audience whereas a discussion (possibly called a brainstorming) should be including a very limited number of participants, all heavily involved into the topic at hand
  2. Start with “Please focus for x minutes” so the participants know that they can resume “interrupt” mode after that
  3. Take breaks if the brainstorming is for more than 20 minutes. Slice your agenda into several mini-topics rather than a marathon discussion.
  4. Prepare your audience to what you will be talking about, this way if someone thinks that they don’t have to attend because it is either not of their interest or think they know about it already, that’s one distracted person less in the room

Better focus, better results, happier people
After all, isn’t this the aim of what we want to achieve? Waste less time, move forward, avoid frustrations and be happier? A constructive presentation is one in which the audience learns something and walks out with a message. In a discussion, or brainstorming, it is about identifying the challenge and find a range of possible solutions, coming out with a list of action items to rapidly move forward and test a resolution.
For all, meetings and presentations are a bore that reduce efficiency and keep us from doing our work or taking care of our lives... unfortunately, for others, they are one way they think they are indispensable.... but, let’s keep this for another article and let’s focus on focusing on what we want to achieve now!



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Stiffan Consulting website. I love supporting startups and established companies to link with universities and other education institutions to foster innovation and create valuable content via team assembly and partnerships. By assisting you in reviewing your goals, understanding the potential markets and validating your approach, I help create a winning strategy to ensure sustainable growth. For more information, contact me directly at flavio@stiffan.eu.