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Because People Aren’t Gold Fish: AEA Audience Engagement Strategies

Posted by on September 22nd, 2017 Posted in: Blog, Participatory Evaluation, Reporting


Gold fish in a bowl making eye contact with a cat.

Here’s a statistic to ponder.  According to a study done by Microsoft, as reported in Time magazine, the average adult human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Goldfish can pay attention for 9 seconds, but you’ll lose a human after 8.

While this attention span statistic has been questioned, such as in this article by BBC reporter Simon Maybin, I think we can all agree that presentations need to be as engaging as possible to compete with our mobile phones.  This is particularly important when you’re presenting evaluation results, which often feature lots of facts and figures. Using an N of 1 (myself), I’ve found attention span shortens as data density increases.

The solution is to sprinkle audience engagement strategies throughout your presentation to keep  re-capturing  your audience members’ attention. For tips and techniques, the American Evaluation Association has you covered.  Check out the no-cost, downloadable Audience Engagement Strategy Book, by Sheila Robinson, one of the many resources provided on the AEA’s Potent Presentation Resources (aka p2i) web page.

This Audience Engagement Strategy Book presents 20 strategies to draw your audience members into your presentation. You’ll find a range of strategies, from the most subtle, such as eye contact or simple polls, to out-of-the-seat activities, such as writing ideas on sticky notes and posting them around the room.

The book provides an assessment of all 20  strategies on six dimensions, such as amount of time and cost, ease of application, and the amount of movement required from your participants. Each strategy also receives a brief write-up, with a one-paragraph description and a tip or two for implementing the technique. The book ends with a short list of other resources for audience engagement methods. The Audience Engagement Strategy Book cleverly uses graphics to convey a lot of information in 15 pages. (A nod to readers’ attention span, perhaps?)

Of course, audience engagement is just one element of a good presentation. Delivery is built on good content and design.  If there is a conference presentation in your future, this entire website is useful to you.  The p2i Tools and Guidelines page will help you build a good presentation from the ground up. You also will find tips for posters. Even if you are presenting somewhere other than a professional or academic conference, you will find these resources helpful.

So, check out the p2i initiative. And when it comes time to give a presentation,  get ready, get set, and, in the words of Star Fleet Captain Jean Luc Picard:

:Engage!

Image of the author ABOUT Cindy Olney
Cindy Olney is the Assistant Director of the NNLM Evaluation Office. She leads NNLM's evaluation efforts, designs evaluation methods, and guides analysis and reporting of evaluation findings.

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Commenting (2)

Thoughts on "Because People Aren’t Gold Fish: AEA Audience Engagement Strategies"

Don’t waste any time pondering that statistic, since it is phony. It came from the bozos at Statistic Brain, who falsely claimed to have gotten it from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
See my Joyful Public Speaking blog post from JAnuary 21, 2017 titled Is the attention span of a marketer shorter than that of a fruit fly.

Cindy Olney Cindy Olney says:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Richard. We investigated the point you made in your comment and agree that this statistic is not confirmable. We will revise our blog post to reflect that.

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