Getting Their Attention

pay-attention-sm2I’d like to share a recent experience and what I learned from it with you. I was asked to give a talk in Concord for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Granite State College. The members are “50 or better” and have almost 200 workshops and talks to attend each semester. The subjects are as varied as classic music in film and 20th century physics. The members paid $15 each to hear me talk for two hours about the aging brain.

My first thought was that two hours was too long to listen to anyone. Not only is it boring but the brain cannot take in more than 20 minutes of new material, no matter how interesting. So, I decided to make it a discussion rather than a talk, hoping I could keep it going for the two hours allotted and make it worth their time and money. I created a six slide PowerPoint as a backdrop to the major points I wanted to share (i.e. brain development at each stage). I made the slides visual, using images with a few words, because according to John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, “vision trumps all other senses.”

When I entered the room, it was filling up fast. I assumed that just by being there, they were people who liked to learn and knew that they would keep me on my toes. They kept a lively conversation going with each other and at times me while we set up the room and waited for the appointed time. I wasn’t nervous, but I wanted to make the time we shared worthwhile, so I decided to start with a story.

I know that you have ten minutes to grab the audience’s attention. Using a personal story, particularly when it is something everyone can relate to is a good way to start. I told the audience a story about my grandfather and his reaction to medication and its effect on his mental health as well as the medical community response. I tried hard to keep it short while sharing the journey we took as a family to bring my grandfather back to the person he had been before the medication took him away from us. It is a good story, with a happy ending and the result was an engaged audience with a lot of questions and comments. The two hours flew by so fast, that I was actually shocked when I realized that I would need to wrap it up.

I know some of you might be thinking, yes, but this was in person, so you can share this way. This is not possible with an online class. I would disagree. You can create a short video using your phone, a PowerPoint with pictures and voice over or even better, try Spark Video, which I told you about in an earlier post. The medium doesn’t matter nearly as much as the message, because as John Medina states in Rule #4, we don’t pay attention to boring things. Something to keep in mind next time you prepare a lecture, online or face-to-face.



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