“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
– John Wooden
When I first started teaching, I would try to get my students’ attention by yelling, “listen up” or “alright everybody” and repeatedly be frustrated when they wouldn’t stop everything immediately.
Someone gave me a chime to ring and shared some nonverbal ways of getting students’ attention without having to bust my vocal chords. Interestingly, the dynamic of the class improved immediately.
Even years later, though I am no longer teaching, I think back to my first years teaching a lot. In some ways, we adults aren’t all that much different than children when it comes to our learning and engagement needs. If we’re working in groups and are asked to do an exercise that requires communicating, most of us follow the prompts and engage. Like students, we struggle to give our undivided attention when the facilitator/speaker tries to regain the groups focus to move on.
I believe that we’re all doing our best with the skills and tools that we have, and sometimes the little details (that we don’t know about) make the world of a difference.
I’ve been to several events in the past few months and noticed five patterns that have led to missed opportunities, so I’m offering some food for thought for your consideration…
A. Ambiance matters.
- Think about the tone you want to set.
- What’s the first thing you want people to see/feel/experience when they enter your space?
- Play music that matches the vibe you intend to foster, and think about the colors/images support that.
- Make space for different body-types to feel comfortable if possible. (ie. have different sized chairs, pillows on the ground, and even invite people to stand if they’d like) That creates more of a liberatory environment.
B. Think beyond rows.
This allows for us to think more creatively, feel less constrained, and connect with each other differently. Here are some ways to mix up room set-up:
- Diagonal / angle
C. Framing & closing matters.
How we set up the experience impacts everything. As an event leader, it is important to frame the event. At the beginning, share why you’re putting on this event and the expected/desired outcomes. To close the event, remind participants of the outcomes and allow space for participants to both reflect and connect to one another.
During the opening, it helps to tell people how you intend to get their attention after exercises and breaks so they know what to expect and why. (For example: We’ll be engaging and connecting a lot today, and since we have limited time, when you hear/see this…that’s our signal to bring our attention back to the center of the room)
I highly encourage the leaders I work with to use feedback forms to understand how participants experienced the event. This can be as fancy as a pre-filled out form with intentional questions or as simple as handing folks an index card or blank piece of paper with one question/prompt: How did you experience today’s event?
D. Think beyond your voice.
Instead of saying “hey” 10 times really loud to get our attention, (which, interestingly I hear/see a LOT) try one of these:
- Raise your hand and invite them to do the same when they see yours go up (it’s a nonverbal cue)
- Ring a chime or bell
- Put a timer on the wall so they know how much time is left (or if you absolutely have to, let them know you’ll count-down from 10 to 0 so they know when to to center their attention back on the community)
- Take a cue from YMCA camps, “If you can hear me clap once” (clap) “If you can hear me, clap twice.” (clap twice).
E. 20 minute rule.
Science suggests that 18 minutes is really our maximum for maintaining undivided attention, so I aspire to use the 20 minute rule in all that I do.
Minimize talking to 20 minutes or less. Set a timer and after 20 minutes, invite people to say something outloud to their neighbor. This can be just 30-60 seconds, yet it energizes the room, connects participants, and allows for increased cognitive understanding.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there for now, as I believe strengthening those five areas will lead to subtle but powerful game-changers for your next event.
And I would love to keep this conversation going…
What does this spark for YOU? In the comments below, share a recent experience (positive or negative) of how a dynamic speaker impacted your experience an event.
Rachel Rosen is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. She helps courageous leaders uncover their blindspots and take their diverse team to the next level with intentionality and integrity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. Check out your SPARK score here.