3 People Who Will Always Attend Your Presentation

Take a look around the room during your next presentation, and you’ll find three different types of people:

  1. Ambivalent Pizza Eaters

These are the folks who may see training as a necessary evil, but on the bright side, there’s often free pizza or some other lunch served. So they’re happy they didn’t need to pack a lunch for the day.

How to engage the Ambivalent Pizza Eaters: They’re expectations for training are fairly low, so a little effort can go a long way. Starting a session by asking what they expect to take away from the session (besides a free lunch) can set the tone with the fact they won’t be able to simply sit back and daydream all day. Sprinkle in some small group discussion, Q&A and maybe even use the boomerang technique to keep them on their toes will prove that training can be so much more than just free pizza.

  1. Eager Learners

In general, these are every presenter’s ideal attendees. They’ve been looking forward to and probably even requested to attend your session. They want to learn and they like to participate. Sometimes they want to participate too much and you’ll need to control their enthusiasm, their constant desire to comment and their uncanny ability to have an answer to every one of your questions.

How to engage the Eager Learners: They’ve come to learn, so it doesn’t take much. But you can’t let your job get too easy. Eager Learners can quickly become disillusioned and disgruntled if you throw them the 1-2 punch of lecture and poorly designed (boring!!) PowerPoint slides. This group of attendees needs an opportunity to contribute – through answering your questions, scribing on flipchart and maybe even presenting out to the larger audience.

  1. Irritated Prisoners

These are the folks who were sent to your presentation against their will. Perhaps you’re delivering some type of compliance training, a new hire orientation or perhaps they were required to attend by their supervisor. Whatever the reason, they’re there, and they’re not happy about it.

How to engage the Irritated Prisoners: Honestly, sometimes this group’s irritation is justified – they may have sat through a similar presentation last year and for whatever reason, they’re back for more this year. With this group it might be helpful to ask yourself: what value will they add to your presentation? Providing opportunities for attendees to do some peer coaching or to offer peer feedback can bring their contributions to the surface. Allowing attendees to create something – a lesson plan (if you’re presenting on presentation skills) or a job description (if you’re presenting on how to recruit and hire) or a set of objections to overcome (if you’re presenting on improving sales outcomes). If it’s not logistically possible to get your attendees into small groups or to get them physically involved but you’re still looking to touch the heart and soul of your Irritated Prisoners, try taking a page out of molecular biologist John Medina’s book through these additional presentation techniques.

Have you found other types of attendees in your presentations? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!

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2 thoughts on “3 People Who Will Always Attend Your Presentation

  1. How about the ‘multi-taskers’- they have 3-5 other activities to complete (SOP: “Excuse me, I have an urgent call to attend” or laptop open or hand held messaging)…have you seen this type as well?

    Do you read my comments on this address…I am never sure.

    Manoj Gulati
    Country Director, India

    • Thanks for the comment Manoj. Yes indeed, the “multi-taskers” (though truly they’re only uni-taskers… brain science says you can really only do one thing at a time and if they’re paying attention to their laptop or taking calls, then their brains aren’t processing your presentation).

      When I crafted this post, I was playing with the idea of more than 3 types of attendees. You mention the “multi-taskers”. I’d say this group might be a sub-set of either the Ambivalent Pizza Eaters or the Irritated Prisoners. I’d argue that the “multi-tasking” is really a symptom of either their ambivalence toward the topic or idea of training or perhaps it’s a symptom of the fact that they just don’t want to be there in the first place.

      Either way, the presenter has a responsibility to engage them through design. But sometimes even the best, most engaging design in the world isn’t going to keep their attention if they’re dead set on answering phone messages or responding to emails. In this case, the presenter can at least ask them to leave the room so they aren’t a distraction to the rest of the group.

      Awesome question. I’m curious if there are other thoughts out there on this one.

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