I drew the short straw when I was asked to give an address at a conference recently. I was delivering a workshop on strategic financial issues at 2pm - the post-lunch graveyard slot. And sure enough, within the first five minutes, two of the 60 or so gathered audience had shut their eyes and snuggled down. One was even on the front row.
Now, although I'm clearly biased, I believe my presentation was pretty absorbing. I even threw in some coloured graphs and one-word slides to break things up. I made sure my voice wasn't monotone, and I stood up - unlike the session leader from the morning, who sat obscured during the entire presentation. What more could I do?
I once saw charity IT expert John Tate use a very effective tactic when he was speaking at a conference. Every time the audience appeared to be becoming soporific, he would do another straw poll. Then he would take the answer, analyse it and react. This was a lesson not just for presentations, but for the workplace.
When you're speaking, you need to engage people directly and let them know you are looking for interaction. Make it clear it's not going to be a one-way street and you are not interested only in listening to the sound of your own voice.
The same applies when you are dealing with your staff. I do it in many ways on an almost daily basis. If you want people to engage, you have to allow them to interact. If you want them to buy in to your arguments, you need to listen to their responses.
Even if you think you have the full solution to an issue and can lock yourself away with your PC for two days to produce the paper that will contain the answer, you shouldn't do it. Seeking other people's input to your projects gives you more chance of getting their support - and you might be surprised by the answers you get.
With this in mind, I decided that instead of giving my workshop audience all the answers to my case study scenarios, I would instead tell them at the start that I would later be asking for them to do something.
Then, with the final example, I asked them to find the solution. The noise levels in the room were tremendous. The answers they gave were interesting and wide-ranging; they were at times radical and bizarre, but never dull, and I suspect they absorbed more from my workshop than they would have if they hadn't had that opportunity to interact.
Let this be a lesson to the monotone speakers, sitting obscured behind their desks.