Investing in a Rare Commodity: Your Clients’ Attention

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In today’s world, as marketers and media fill our days with an overabundance of sale pitches and information, time is becoming a rare commodity. What is becoming increasingly scarce is attention.

Our financial adviser clients lament that it is harder than ever to capture audiences’ attention during their presentations. However, after analyzing the facts, we often come to the conclusion that external stimuli triggered by mobile phones or tablets are not always the main culprits for diverting people’s attention. In many cases the speaker’s language and delivery is not fully engaging.

To be effective, your language needs to be crisp, clear and resonate with your audience. Concurrently, your delivery needs be unique and reflect your personality. Seek to create a bond with your audience.

Let me offer four basic guidelines that will help you make your language impactful and engage your audience.

Active Trumps Passive
By all means, I’m not stating here that passive sentences are incorrect. However, they often are not the best way to phrase thoughts. By nature, passive voice tends to be wordy and perceived by audiences as awkward and vague. The active voice usually makes our speech stronger and helps us to be less verbose by shortening our sentences. Passive voice is often the favorite weapon of politicians. It is used to intentionally obscure the idea of who is taking action or to evade responsibility. Here are a couple of examples on the directness and effectiveness of active versus passive voice:

Passive: Three out of five fixed-income portfolio managers have been retained by ACME Mutual Funds.
Active: ACME Mutual Funds kept three out of five fixed-income portfolio managers.

Passive: Some of the components of the asset allocation strategy we created for you have already been put in place.
Active: We have already implemented components of your asset allocation strategy.

Express, Don’t Impress
We have all been lured to use big words in a presentation. This is simply our ego screaming for attention and seeking to convince us that we’ll sound smart. However, the goal of giving a speech or presentation is to express our ideas, not impress the audience with our knowledge. In rehearsing your presentation, if you realize that a concept expressed with 40 words can be said in 10, go ahead and use 10 words. You may lose your audience’s attention on those 30 words.

In the words of author George Orwell, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” Orwell also said, “If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.” So focus on your audience and their propensity to get easily distracted if you do not engage them with clarity. Cut out the fluff, concisely say what’s on your mind and you’ll discover that less will impress.

Jokes Vs. Humor
Do not use jokes to begin your delivery. Using joke can be risky, as your audience may not fully comprehend the situation. Humor, on the other hand, can be easily found within the context of your presentation. You do not need to be a comedian to use humor effectively. Anecdotes or funny stories are easy to tell, especially when they are part of your professional or personal life. Most importantly, make your humor relevant to your presentation. Always, use humor to make a point. When you do, your listeners—even if they don’t find your humor funny—will get the point.  

See Eye-to-Eye
Keeping eye contact with your audience during a presentation has three major benefits:

  • You receive real-time feedback from the audience about their perception of you and what you’re saying
  • The audience feels you have earnestly connected with them and that you care about their reaction
  • Because you address the audience as if you were in a one-on-one conversation, you’ll come across as conversational, and that makes you easy to listen to and engaging

You may already know and/or implement these guidelines. However, it’s worth a reminder to adhere to them in any type of speaking engagement, to ensure that your knowledge and expertise aren’t in any way diminished by weak language and poor delivery.

As always, I welcome questions or comments.

Claudio Pannunzio

i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.

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