Whether you’re chatting with a client or presenting to your team, you can easily lose people’s attention in a long meeting.
The signs your audience is drifting off are obvious—they pull out their phones or check their watches. But there are subtler cues, too. Maybe their eyes start scanning the room. Maybe they lean back or start doodling on a piece of paper.
The difficult (though, possible) part is reigning people back in.
While an effective leader knows how to bring everyone back on topic, they’re also great at keeping everyone laser-focused right from the start. When you can direct a long meeting so people stay on track, you’re saving everyone involved time, energy, and money.
That said, it’s not about dominating the entire presentation. It’s about keeping people genuinely engaged.
Make sure your points are relevant to the audience.
The brain works best when it’s building on prior knowledge. So if the information you’re sharing isn’t relevant or easily understood, it’ll likely go in someone’s ear and out the other.
If you want to keep people focused, make sure you’re speaking their language.
For example, if the average consumer walks into a cell phone store and asks, “What is 5G?” they likely don’t want to hear the technical side of it. Once the salesperson starts talking about control towers and encoded data, the customer will probably tune out. But imagine if the salesperson says, “It’s the latest, fastest technology that allows you to upload pictures, check your e-mail, and stream videos at record-speed.” Now, the customer is engaged and wants to know more.
You can use the same logic to prepare for any long meeting. Do your research beforehand. Find out who will be in the meeting and learn what interests them. And then create a clear-cut agenda for the presentation. That way, you can incorporate information that’s relevant to your audience, and you won’t stray too far from the focus.
But even when you have done your homework, questions are still essential for cultivating attention.
Throughout the meeting, ask plenty of questions.
There are countless things vying for someone’s attention, even in a meeting. Maybe their email is up, or maybe they’re thinking about the 20 other things on their to-do list. I know because I’m guilty of this myself from time to time.
To keep people engaged, you have to continuously ask, “Does that make sense to you?” and “Do you have any questions?” to bring their attention back to what you’re saying.
At ShipChain, I train my team to ask questions constantly during a presentation. We often start off by asking, “Tell us about your company. What does a typical day look like for you? What are your biggest pain points?” This gets people’s attention while making the meeting feel more like a conversation. But it also helps ensure everyone in the room understands the information. If someone asks you to clarify, you know to tune down the technical language or find a different way to explain your point.
And don’t be afraid to get a little unconventional sometimes—both with your questions and with your presentation as a whole. That’s what helps you stand out.
Incorporate attention-grabbing moments.
If a long meeting is all about stats, technical terms, and graphs, you’ll probably lose everyone within the first five minutes.
Luckily, there are some well-known tricks to keep people on their toes. Most of them involve throwing a figurative wrench into your presentation, so people get drawn back in. Maybe you ask a random, unrelated question in the middle of a slide, or maybe you tell an anecdote about your grandma.
Still, the best attention-grabbing tactics will differ for everyone.
I’m 6’9” and 200 pounds with a loud voice, so if I tried something flashy and shocking, I can easily overwhelm my audience. Instead, I try to keep the atmosphere light. I crack jokes and address any elephants in the room. Occasionally, I’ll throw in an S-bomb to push the limits, but in a comfortable way. It makes people go, “Woah, huh? Did he just say that? That was pretty funny.”
And boom: I have their attention again.
Just make sure you don’t stray too far from the agenda by sticking to your overall point.
Reel people in when they get off-topic.
Time is money, especially in long meetings. If you’re conducting a two-hour call with eight executives on the line, it’s costing several thousand dollars of productivity.
As a result, you need to reel people in when they get side-tracked. Asking questions and making jokes is a great way to lighten the mood, but that’s not why you’re there. You’re there to close a deal or communicate important information.
So take charge when someone derails the presentation.
Most of the time, people actually appreciate it when you say, “Hey, I don’t feel this is relevant. Let’s get back to the plan.” After all, it’s their time, too—and they probably have other things to do after the meeting.
Re-focusing is especially important at the end of a meeting. Sometimes, when all the points have been discussed, people taper off into small talk. Instead, have a clear-cut plan in mind. Ask for a close. Discuss the next steps. Articulate your goals moving forward. That way, everyone’s on the same page and the meeting can come to an efficient end.
Long meetings are unavoidable in the business world, but they don’t have to be boring or a waste of time. When you keep them light, informative, and productive, you’re being an effective leader who’s considerate of other people’s time.