What does the audience want from your words? They want to be moved.

They want to be led from where they are right now--their fears, their hopes, their nervous tics, their outlook on life--to somewhere new. Somewhere better. Somewhere transformational.

And as it turns out, leading them on a journey like that is a shockingly difficult task, and takes overcoming two major hurdles:

  1. Status quo bias
  2. Short attention spans

Status Quo Bias

Because we're stubborn, we want your words to move us but we also don't want to go anywhere. We're ready to move but everything in our lives is arranged to encourage us to stay.

Psychologists call this the "status quo bias." That bias means that we like for things to stay the same, even when we know the status quo isn't very good, and the place we'd like to go is even better.

Anytime you hear someone say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," you're watching status quo bias in action.

There are good evolutionary reasons for our brains to be wired this way: change is risky when you're barely surviving on the savanna. But the same mental habits that served us well on that savanna tend to hurt us everywhere else.

It's not enough to show your audience the destination: you have to show them why it's worth taking the first few steps. Joseph Campbell famously named this the "call to adventure," the part of any great journey where new imaginative horizons open.

Your audience wants just such an adventure. Show them where you're moving them from, and then paint a compelling portrait of where you're moving them to.

Persuasion, then, means making the journey compelling.

Keeping Everyone's Attention

The problem gets worse. Not only do people not want to be moved; they don't really want to listen. How often does the average cell phone user touch their phones in a day?

Answer: 2,617.

We touch, tap, and swipe our little love-it-and-hate-it glowing rectangles 2,617 times per day. And that's the average. Your hyperconnected TED-talk attendee? Double that number, and you're in the ballpark.

That means one thing: as a speaker, you're not just competing against daydreams or lunch planning. You have to compete against devices--Fia calls them "weapons of mass distraction--that your audience can use the moment you lose their attention.

Our diversions are infinite. Our attention spans aren't.

All of this adds up to a second problem speakers face from the moment they begin planning their speech: their words must capture and keep their audience's attention.

The good news is that these two problems--motivation on the one hand, attention on the other--have a simple solution.

Transfix your audience as you lead them to transformation.

If your audience isn't transfixed, they'd rather be on the latest social network. If they're captivated but unmoved, then they'll leave feeling cheated.

We were just speaking with a client--let's call him Jack--who said he'd just returned from a conference in which the biggest name in motivational speaking had given a three-hour talk. (I'm omitting names here to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.)

For three hours this speaker had told the audience to follow their dreams, believe in their own power, and on and on. But a few days after the event, Jack realized he couldn't remember a single transformative takeaway from the talk.

It was all sound and fury, signifying nothing... except regular reminders to head to the back tables for merchandise and a $10,000 weekend with the speaker.

Jack felt cheated. We would have too.

Three hours is no cheap investment of time.

The problem with the speaker's talk wasn't related to his delivery--it was perfect. He's one of the most dynamic speakers in the game!

The audience was transfixed by speaker's charisma--what we at Moxie call the "it" factor--but the words rang hollow. On their own they could neither transfix nor transform. They were little more than platitudes.

We're firm believers that every presentation should begin from a position of service to the audience. Speakers are there to teach, guide, give, transform, and offer solutions. If not, then they're just there to stroke their own ego at the expense of the audience's time and attention.

So how do you overcome the two speaker's challenges? Engage your audience with a transfixing performance and then guide them to the transformation they seek.

They'll be grateful. You'll be on your way to presentation greatness.

Published on: Jun 19, 2018