When you talk to other people, whether it’s a presentation, a job interview, or a police interrogation, here are the 3 places your attention goes—plus the good/bad of each.

1) You.  Your hair; your shoes; your alibi.

(Good):  Some attention needs to go inward. If you’re giving a presentation, that’s a physical act, so you need to notice, from time to time, what you’re doing with your voice and your body.

Some presenters, for example, never move; others never stop moving. It’s easy to lose track of these things.

(Bad):  Too much attention on YOU makes you feel self-conscious. Sure, you’re concerned about your image. Who isn’t? The question is, how much?

2)  Your material.

(Good):  Your material demands attention. 

I remember watching a senior exec kick off an important meeting.  She only spoke for a few minutes, and probably figured she could wing it. 

Big mistake.  She ended up rambling, losing her audience, and also losing some credibility. 

All she really needed were a few things—a strong opening, a strong close, and a focused message—to make a big difference.

(Bad):  If you’re too focused on the material, you get buried in details—too many Power Point slides, too many bulleted lists, too much information. 

You forget how little people remember. 

3)  Your audience.

(Good):  The best presenters focus on the audience.  Suppose, for example, you’re speaking to a group of managers about how to coach employees.

“Think of someone,” you ask these managers, “who made a big difference in your life.  Could be anyone—a parent, teacher, friend.  What did he/she do?”

Then, you relate their answers to a few best practices, and you ask your audience to assess themselves against those practices. 

You’re still doing a lot of talking, but it feels conversational.  And your audience stays engaged for one simple reason:  it’s about them.

(Bad):  You’re overly concerned with your audience’s emotional state.  If someone looks bored and then—oh, no!—walks out, you feel distraught.

You’ve confused their reactions with your self-worth.  But they don’t need to love you.  Because it’s not about you.

Tip:  When it’s time to speak, check your appearance, check your talking points. 

But then, focus on your audience.


P.S. INCREASE YOUR IMPACT, whether giving a presentation, talking with clients, or muttering to yourself.

—Virtual workshop—I’ve been leading Dynamic Speaking, a four-session course for small teams. We practice how to get heard, get remembered, and get results.

—Webinars—e.g. Your Point?—Be ConciseThe Power of PresenceBulletproof FeedbackStories that Work;  Resilience @ Work. . . Click here for all 12 programs.

—1-1 Coaching—I’ll help you with design (what to say) and/or delivery (how to say it with presence). Click here for details.

P.P.S. Or try my latest book: You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World. Selected by a Fortune 50 company for their book club, translated into five languages, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print , kindle, audio.

PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful. For more info: please call 508-879-0934, or email paul@expresspotential.com

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