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9 The Power of Experiential Exercises

When people enter the room for your presentation you do not have everyone's attention. Paul is wondering if this presentation is going to be another colossal waste of his time; Tina is thinking that she will sit near the back so she can sneak out; Dan is wondering if he can get a date with Julie on the weekend; Sara is making her grocery list; Pauline is editing a memo she brought with her; Ed is feeling badly about the fight he had this morning with his wife; Sue and Katie are wondering if the vice president is really having an affair with his secretary; and Michele is mentally preparing for the presentation she will be giving after yours.

You have to earn your audience's attention and you have to earn it fast. You have 90 seconds or less to earn their attention. If, in this short period of time, they decide that you are not worth listening to—you may never be able to gain their interest.

One method to help you get your audience's attention is with experiential exercises. Experiential exercises actively involve the audience in an exercise whereby they experience the point or topic on which you are presenting.

For example, Stephen Covey gave a keynote address at the 1999 National Speakers Convention in Anaheim, California. More than 2,000 speakers were in attendance and the room was packed. Covey started the session with an experiential exercise called "Which way is north?"

Covey asked everyone in the room to point to the direction that they thought was north. In looking around the room, we could see that our fellow attendees were pointing to every direction imaginable. Dr. Covey then asked the people who were sure that they knew which direction north was to stand up, close their eyes, and point north. Only about a tenth of the people stood up and there was an immediate burst of laughter, because those of us who were not sure, could see that those who were sure were once again pointing in every direction. Dr. Covey then said that our pointing in all of the various directions was analogous to most organizations, that is, most of us assume that we know in what direction the organization is going, but in actuality, the people who work in that organization do not have either a clear idea or a strong commitment to the direction in which the organization is moving.

The second exercise Covey used had to do with negotiation and influencing skills. Party "A" was anyone who was wearing glasses; party "B" was anyone who was not wearing glasses. The goal of the exercise was that party "A" had to convince party "B" to try on his or her glasses.

Brad: As an expert who constantly lectures on negotiating and influencing skills and who has written a book about influencing skills, I was hooked. My party "B" was a very fashionably dressed young man. Apparently he did not like the idea of even trying on my conservative looking glasses. I tried everything I could think of to get him to try them on. For a minute, it seemed as if my entire self-esteem rested on his trying them on, while a great deal of his self-esteem equally rested on his not trying them on.

This was an important lesson for me More importantly, the magic started when Covey suggested that for all of us (who were in the influencing role), our glasses had a specific prescription that was made just right for us and not necessarily just right for the party that we were trying to influence. Then Covey hit us all—right between the eyes—by saying that each of us developed and was entitled to our own perspective, and how many times per day and upon whom do we try to force our own perspective. I immediately thought of the times that I tried to impose my perspective on my children. Even thinking about Covey's presentation, six years later, I can feel the power of that exercise. Not only do we often try to press our own perspective onto others, as presenters we try to force our learning style onto others.

To summarize, experiential exercises, if done correctly, are some of the most powerful tools a presenter can use to help the participants understand the point that is being made, integrate that point into his or her own experience, and remember that point, all at the same time.

EXERCISE 4-8

Briefly describe the most powerful experiential exercises you have seen in a presentation.

How can you use the power of experiential exercises in one of your next presentations?



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