Crank up the action for more audience reaction

Halina St James, founder of Podium Coaching and creator of the TalkitOut Technique for great speeches and presentations, reports from the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers’ annual convention in Winnipeg.

Halina St James with Dr Thiagi at the Winnipeg convention
Halina St James with Dr Thiagi at the Winnipeg convention

There’s a formula known to trainers, which says people will remember 10% of what they hear, 50% of what they see, and 90% of what they do. As speakers and presenters, we should remember those figures.

The stats were brought to mind by a fascinating session by the man known simply as Dr Thiagi. Dr Thiagi (Sivasailam Thiagarajan) has been in the training game for 30 years.

Dr. Thiagi says speakers and presenters must always keep in mind that people learn more and remember longer through active participation. The less you are the ‘sage on stage’, the more chance you have of delivering a really memorable message.  Having the audience do an activity significantly increases their ability to retain content.

For a quick taste of how Dr Thiagi interacts with an audience, try this exercise:

  1. For a start, draw the number 6 in the air with your right index finger
  2. So far so good? Now make a circle with your foot in a clockwise direction
  3. No problem? OK – now do both actions simultaneously

How did you get on? Most of us in the audience in Winnipeg failed to do these two simple tasks simultaneously.

It’s fun. But it’s also a great way – as Dr Thiagi used it – of making the point that multi-tasking does not work. It was certainly a more effective way that reciting a litany of stats and facts.

Dr Thiagi says a speaker’s job is not to design the content. We are awash in content – and if we don’t have enough, all we have to do is browse the internet. Our absolute priority, he says, should be to design activities that make our key points memorable and meaningful.

By reducing the presentation of content (the words and the slides) and increasing the activities, you have much more chance of fully engaging your audience. Once the audience is engaged, the core ideas will stick.

This is the opposite of what some presenters do. They coat the audience with a thick layer of facts and figures that everyone forgets the minute they leave the room (if not sooner).

If you’ve read any of Podium’s books on presentation skills or media skills, or taken any of our workshops, you’ll know that our philosophy is completely in sync with Dr Thiagi’s. One of our mantras is ‘facts tell, but stories sell’. Information is important – but it’s forgettable when delivered in a speech or presentation. And the more information that’s delivered, the more that gets forgotten. To make essential information memorable or meaningful, you need to wrap it in a story or tie it to an activity.

Dr. Thiagi has designed more than 300 activities free for the taking on his website. Check them out to make your next presentation memorable and fun. Give the audience a little more action, and they’ll give you a much better reaction.

Check out Halina St James’s new book on public speaking and presentation skills. It’s called TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers. Click here to find out more. The book costs $20 and the e-book $10, and both are available from the Podium Store.


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