Three Things in the First Five Minutes

What is the pulse of your meeting? The graphic above, which I use when I teach my graduate students how to teach, shows student heart rates in a lecture class. If you notice, their heart rates drop dramatically as soon as the lecture starts and continues the precipitous decline with only a few interruptions. In the class observed above, there is a 20 minute break from lecture for a simulation and students come back with elevated heart rates only to be quickly put back to sleep by a lecture before recovering a bit with a discussion at the end of class.

Just to be clear, a constantly lowering heart rate is indicative of people losing interest or falling asleep. I use this figure to show my students that once they start doing a straight lecture, they are on the clock. They don't have much time before their audience (students in this case) become catatonic! In fact, after just 5 minutes of lecture, you're moving into sub-optimal territory for information comprehension and retention. And so we work on how to incorporate different techniques in the classroom.

All of this brings me to this question, What are your meetings like? So many of the meetings, conferences and executive sessions that I find myself in and that I observe are basically mirroring the figure above. Somebody gets up to speak and the audience starts out engaged and excited and then, regardless of their fascination and interest in the material being presented, they gradually start drifting away.

You’ve seen it. Heck, you’ve probably experienced it. People start glancing at their phones. Your mind starts to wander to the appointments coming up for the week or grocery lists. Soon, you check the time, realize the speaker has been going for a while and that there is still a while left before the end, and you start actively working on something else. Maybe you pop open the trusty laptop to send some emails, maybe you make a to-do list, maybe you’re responding to text messages from a client. All of these are useful things, but not really what you’re there for.

Too many managers, event planners and speakers are either uneducated about the data surrounding what makes for effective learning communities. They stand and talk, not because they don’t care, but just because they don’t know any other way.

To counter this, here are three things that you need to do in the FIRST FIVE MINUTES of any presentation to maintain interest and engagement.

  1. Do something that requires your audience to engage with you. Maybe they answer a question by raising their hands. Maybe you do a quick interview from a floor mic. Maybe they ask you some questions to get started.

  2. Do something that requires them to engage with each other. My favorite activity here is quick and easy. Think-Pair-Share. First, they think about the answer to a question you pose, then they pair up with a neighbor to share what they thought about. If you want to combine this with number 1, they can feed their thoughts back to you in some way.

  3. Let them know what’s coming. People will stay engaged longer and resist the temptation to check out.

If you can do these three things in the FIRST FIVE MINUTES then you will increase audience participation and engagement dramatically.

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