All too often, when I experience someone’s presentation – especially a technical one – I see that the presenter and the audience simply are not connecting. There can be any number of reasons for a failure to connect, but most of the time it boils down to this: the presenter has disregarded his or her role in what I call the Grand Bargain.
What is the Grand Bargain, and how does one uphold it? Simply put, the Grand Bargain is the deal the speaker makes in return for the audience’s attention. Now I know what you are probably thinking: audience members willingly give the speaker their attention in return for the information being delivered, right? Not necessarily.
If you are just trading information for attention, the audience is getting a lousy deal. The average English speaker speaks at a rate of 125-150 words per minute. The average adult reading speed is twice that. That means if you were to write down your 30-minute keynote and hand it to me, I could probably read it in 15 minutes or less. Not only could I consume the information in half the time, but once you have handed it to me I can read it in any 15 minutes of my own choosing, instead of having to work my schedule around yours.
But let’s say you didn’t write it down. Let us assume that you are delivering it live and I am in your audience. You are giving me what amounts to fifteen minutes’ worth of information (if we take the written version as our yardstick) and taking thirty minutes of my time in return. If you want me to accept that deal, you must “bring something else to the table” as the saying goes. That is the Grand Bargain, and you ignore it at your peril.
So what do you bring to the table? You should bring everything an information-filled piece of paper doesn’t bring. You bring the awareness that people connect with the spoken word at a different level than they do the written word. You bring emotional engagement. You bring the ability to draw your listeners into your stories so completely they feel what your characters feel. When you do that, they will eagerly trade their attention, not for the information, but for the feelings you are giving them. You see, if you want to get paid you have to earn it. Even if all they are paying is attention.
As a speaking coach, most of the work I do is to teach speakers how to connect emotionally with their listeners. You can read about some of the techniques I use elsewhere in this blog. Today, I wanted to focus on the “why” rather than the “how.” All the tools in your toolbox are useless if you are not motivated to use them.