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Past Meetings

May 28, 2015

How to Present Effectively to an Audience of… Squirrels?

The PMCQ broke from tradition with this evening’s event, which was a 5 à 7 meeting with a highly dynamic speaker. Dr. Patricia Scott, PhD Lecturer at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, gave a rousing and highly entertaining talk about the challenge of keeping today’s easily distracted listener focused. In the era of information overload, getting your message across is harder today than it has ever been before.

Dr. Scott began her talk by asking the audience if they felt that they’re more easily distracted today than they were a year ago. She reasoned this could be due to the fact that 90% of the world’s information has been produced in the last 3 years. There is an unbelievable amount of information that we have to contend with today and it is relentless. Because of the sheer amount of information available to us, and the speed at which we can access it, the average adult attention span has been reduced to 8 seconds, which is one second shorter than a goldfish. Dr. Scott pointed out that our audiences have evolved, but our communication strategies have not, and therein lies the disparity. In order to address and engage today’s audiences, our strategies need to evolve.

Dr. Scott said that the role of the “information person” in companies no longer has any value because people can find information faster than ever. This role needs to evolve into the “meaning finder”. “If you can’t connect the audience to what they’re hearing from you, you have no value.” She explained that the attention span of a squirrel is 1 second; however, if the squirrel has an acorn, this lengthens to 4 minutes. Therefore, to engage an audience, you need to give them an ACORN. Dr. Scott then revealed her ACORN strategy, which consists of five sets of tools that can be applied to any negotiation, communication, or talk to break through the level of distraction needed to persuade your audience.

A = Audience

Dr. Scott explained that, in order to engage an audience, you need to figure out the “What’s in it for me” or “WIFM”. The message needs to be relevant to the audience for them to be engaged. There is a part of the brain called the reticular activating system and it has one job – to act as a filter for all incoming information for all five senses. This system decides what’s most relevant to you and dictates what to focus on. She gave an example of presenting a slide to an audience, explaining that if you show a graph without prefacing it, the audience will be looking at the graph rather than listening to what you’re saying. However, if, before showing the graph, you explain to the audience that you want them to focus on one particular element of the graph, then they will immediately focus on it when you show the slide. Effective communication works when deliberate focus is provided and when that focus is relevant to the audience. Thus, the communicator needs to figure out the “WIFM” for each audience.

C = Credibility

Dr. Scott said that in today’s informative world, we’ve become very sceptical, because we hear various and conflicting stories about the same subject. So, in order to be considered credible to an audience, we need to figure out how to weave in credibility. She quoted the three elements of persuasion from ARISTOTLE: ethos, pathos and logos; namely, credibility, emotion and logic. There are two types of credibility: personal and credentialed. Personal credibility is gained over time. It’s something that you have to build through competence, sincerity and trustworthiness and it needs to be safeguarded. Credentialed credibility is something borrowed from a third source. When communicating your credibility to an audience, you should be short and concise, but it needs to be done. She added that credibility is not transferable and it has to be relevant.

O = Order of the Message

Dr. Scott said that it matters what you say first. When speaking to an audience, you should never say, “lastly” or “most importantly” at the end of a talk. “Don’t save it to the end, because nobody’s listening then. Make your point first.” By doing so, you are framing the message, which will help the audience arrive at the conclusion with you. She explained that narrative storytelling doesn’t work in business anymore. We need to be bolder in our word choices and flip the conclusion to the beginning of the story. By getting to the point first, you will sate the audience’s need for relevance and then they will be open to hearing the details that back up your conclusion.

R = Remember Me

In order to have a memorable message, you need to address how adults learn. Adults need to intellectually understand what you’re saying and then relate it to something they’ve already experienced or understood that is similar, which is a lot of work. To provide a “shortcut” to this process, a metaphor can be used. Audiences today don’t seek to understand, they just want to “get it”. If they “get it” they might seek further understanding, but it doesn’t work the other way anymore. In today’s new currency of communication, complexity doesn’t make you seem smart; instead, taking the complex and making it simple makes people think you’re smart.

Dr. Scott also mentioned the tactic of “chunking”. She explained that audiences will stop listening after the third piece of information if the speaker doesn’t tell them what’s coming. Audiences want to be able to predict, with certainty, where a speaker is going. As such, you have to be deliberate with your navigation to give the audience through the data or communication.

And lastly, she said that you have to have a good call to action. A good call to action has to be specific, it has to be do-able by an individual contributor and it has to be done soon. The more specific a call to action is, the more do-able it is.

N = Need to Connect

When addressing an audience, we need to find some kind of resonance with our message. The amygdala is the “fight or flight” reflux section of the brain and things that affect the amygdala are remembered longer than those that don’t. Therefore, it’s important to connect to it when communicating. In order to persuade an audience, an emotional connection is needed with them, as logic won’t persuade on its alone. Dr. Scott suggested making messages resonate through word choice. Words that can be visualized in the mind’s eye will be remembered. Words like “effectiveness” and “better outcomes” can’t be visualized. Helping audiences visualize your message will help them “get it” and then they will become more emotional about it.

In summary, Dr. Scott provided the following key points:

  • Make your message relevant
  • Make sure you’re credible
  • Make the most important thing first (the “WIFM”)
  • Make sure you’re connected by helping the adults “get it” by using a metaphor
  • Make sure that you chunk information so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming and navigate the audience through it
  • Make sure you have a call to action at the end
  • Make abstract things concrete

“The journey is not about sharing information that has no value, it’s about sharing meaning.”


Lara Holmes
Medical Writer
Cell: 514-425-4977

Upcoming meeting

March 20, 2018

Immuno-Oncology: Changing the Face of Cancer

Dinner Meeting
Cocktails: 5:30 p.m.
Dinner: 6:30 p.m.
Panel Discussion: 7:00 p.m.

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