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Losing your audience? Stop and ask

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Within three minutes, Julie Patel sensed something was wrong. She had just launched into her presentation to a group of senior executives at Elan Pharmaceuticals when she detected a drop in their attentiveness level.

Patel, a human resources director at Elan (which merged with Perrigo Co. in 2013), was attempting to persuade her bosses to spend $200,000 to retain top talent at the firm. But she noticed some fidgeting almost immediately as several audience members began glancing at their smartphones.

Initially, she brushed aside their behavior. She thought, “Surely this will pass. They must see how important it is that we move ahead on this proposal.”

But the problem intensified. It be­­came clear to Patel that almost no one was paying attention. Some executives even initiated live phone conversations.

As she grew increasingly annoyed, Patel visualized herself taking a hammer out of her briefcase and destroying every smartphone in the room. Instead, she tried the direct approach. She looked at everyone and declared, “I really need your support and attention on this.”

It didn’t work.

Patel learned her lesson. The next time she addressed Elan’s senior executives, she altered her presentation as soon as she detected their waning interest.

Rather than stick to her prepared remarks, she asked, “Is this still a relevant topic? Should I continue or does something else need to happen here?”

They acknowledged the importance of the topic and urged her to proceed. She held their interest for the rest of her presentation.

— Adapted from Speaking Up, Frederick Gilbert, PowerSpeaking.

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