The Importance Of Breaking The Pattern
Humans evolved with a keen ability to detect motion and change in the environment. That was a particularly helpful trait for our ancestors, who were (hopefully) able to use their peripheral vision to detect large animals preparing to attack.
Although most of us are no longer fending off animal attacks, the evolutionary gift we inherited from our ancestors remains. We’re good at detecting change.
We’re not as good, however, with sameness. We acclimate quickly. Therefore, in order to maintain or regain an audience’s attention, speakers must frequently “break the pattern.” As Dr. Susan Weinschenk advises in 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, “Because people habituate to stimuli, it helps to keep things at least a little unpredictable.”
You can break the pattern in many different ways:
- After sharing a few facts, tell a story
- If you’ve been using PowerPoint, turn it off and move toward your audience
- If you’ve been standing to the right of your audience, move to its left
- If you’ve been speaking in a quiet tone, add volume to emphasize a key point
- If you’ve been lecturing, pause and ask for a volunteer
- Ask the audience a question, real or rhetorical
- If you’ve been speaking, show a video or distribute a handout
Breaking the pattern should never feel gratuitous to the audience — and it won’t, if your pattern-changers occur at logical points during your talk, such as in between key points.
An unofficial trick of the trade is to mindful of “The Ten-Minute Rule,” which maintains that you should break your pattern at least once every ten minutes, the amount of time at which many audience members begin to lose their focus. Although ten minutes isn’t a fixed number (some people’s attention will begin to drift after four seconds, others after forty minutes), the rule serves as a useful reminder to break the pattern often.
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