In teaching, public speaking, close the ‘gap’

You have to close the gap.

Admit it, there are times when you listen to others teach, preach or share information in front of groups and you just are not engaged. It’s alright, it happens to all of us. That’s because there is a “gap” between you and the speaker.

That gap could exist because you are in the back of a large room and you’re halfway paying attention and playing on your phone at the same time. Another gap could be that you, simply, aren’t interested in the subject that the person is speaking about or teaching. Yet, another gap could be that you are actually interested in the subject but you just don’t feel connected to the person delivering the information.

That’s where the gap comes into play.

So, how do you approach this as a teacher, preacher or a speaker? You have to find ways to close the gap.

Here are some ways that you can accomplish this:

  • Address the physical gap. If you give people the choice, they are going to sit all over the room. If you have 10 people in a room for 100, it’s going to present a challenge. So, to close this gap, address the physical. It can be as simple as inviting people to move forward. In a classroom, it can involve moving students closer to the front. Some people will respond to your invitation and move. Others will, possibly, stay where they are. At least, you acknowledged the distance.
  • Hook the listeners. You’ve addressed the physical and now you have to address the people in the room. As a speaker, don’t begin with the history of who you are and what you’ve done. Do something, instead, that puts the focus back on your audience. Some ways to do that include:
    • An attention-getter. This can be anything from a strange quote, a picture, a video, an audio clip, etc. The goal here is get the minds going for those who are listening.
    • A mystery. The movie The Tomorrow War begins with Chris Pratt’s main character in peril. There’s no context for the clip and you know that he has to stick around for awhile because he’s the top-billed star in the movie. Then, the movie’s story-telling goes back in time to begin to layout the steps of how his character reached this point. People, in general, and students, especially, love a great mystery. Mysteries engage the mind and create a situation we want to solve.
    • A thought-provoking question or quote. The TV series Criminal Minds used this on a routine basis. One of the characters begins the show (and ends the show) with a quote that is, in some way, connected to the episode’s plot. Imagine a sales presentation beginning with something along the lines of, “What would it look like if you could double your sales in a month? A classroom question could be , “What if I could show you a way to get better grades in your other classes? “
  • Share a personal story. Students in the classroom want to feel connected to the teacher and know that the teacher is a human being. Church attendees want to know that the speaker deals with the same daily struggles. Personal stories are the strongest starters. However, any story told enthusiastically and in a captivating way will work.
    • My personal thought: Avoid being the hero. To really engage the listeners, don’t tell a story where you are the hero. Instead, share a story that lets the listener know we have a common problem and struggle. Sharing in a struggle puts the speaker and the audience on the same level.
  • Ditch the notes. One of the worst classes I ever attended involved a teacher sitting at chair in front of the room as he read his note word for word while we made notes. I was “engaged” to the point that I wanted to make an “A.” I was not engaged with what the speaker was saying. Notes are important. They just shouldn’t be used as an anchor that creates a gap. Yes, refer to your notes. Use the notes to share important things. You can still, however, have moments when you leave the notes behind, look at the audience members or students and share that story. (That’s why stories work! As long as you know where you are heading and planning to end, you can really play up the story you are telling along the way.)

There is always a gap when you are communicating information to others. Doing a few simple things at the beginning can make a difference in engaging the listeners. It’s always more fun to speak to a group that is engaged and is willing to listen to what you have to say.

Now, go close that gap!

Dean Lollis has spent more than 15 years speaking in front of churches, groups and classrooms. He’s still working each time to close that gap.

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