Engaging an audience can be difficult. Take a new joiners induction. The amount of information, and activities new employees go through can be overwhelming, especially on a first day. How do you get exactly what you want out of an audience? How do you keep them engaged? Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ teaches us a lot about how people navigate information and make decisions.

Here are a few key ideas about thinking and decision-making, and how understanding that process can help us keep an audience engaged:

We process the world in two ways…

What’s the capital of France? What’s 143 x 191? If you are like most people, the answer to the first question came to mind almost immediately, while the second one…well, like most people, you probably just kept reading. The two questions capture the two ways we think and make decisions: automatically and reflectively. Automatic decisions and thinking happen unconsciously, like ducking when a ball comes flying at our heads. Reflective decisions and thinking, like getting through a health and safety presentation, are more involved and require work. Since people use two different ways of thinking, keeping them engaged means catering to both.

The automatic mind loves shortcuts…

Which makes us biased. We use unconscious rules of thumb to help us make our decisions. For example, we tend to make decisions based on information that comes to mind easily, regardless of its accuracy. For instance, more people are afraid of shark attacks than being hit by falling airplane pieces. Surprisingly, falling airplane pieces kill more people per year. And yet, shark attacks are more often in the news. Graduates (like all humans) aren’t always logical, even when they think they are. Want to get the most out of a presentation? Then remember that the audience uses shortcuts and plan for it.

Delivering to both systems

Have you ever put something together, like an induction, and thought it seemed completely logical and straightforward? Then go-live rolls around, and things don’t go as planned. The participants aren’t getting it or seem uninterested. We often cater our plans to the reflective and logical mind, but Generation Y don’t tend to spend a lot of time thinking through instructions, they crave simplicity and intuitive approaches. Want to avoid awkward silences and runaway activities in your induction? Then plan your sessions around both the automatic and reflective minds.

Speaking with images

The automatic mind is often what we think of as a “gut-feeling.” Taking advantage of this way of thinking can be as simple as using the right images or sounds to get your audience thinking in a certain way. Did you know just seeing a picture of a pair of eyes makes people less likely to break rules? Or that the colour green can decrease feelings of stress? Neither did we. This process, called priming, happens unconsciously and is a great way to give your session the edge. For us it’s images and visuals over text every time.

Fuelling the mind

Automatic thinking is fuel efficient, but reflective thinking isn’t. We can only concentrate on a reflective task for so long. So, how do you keep graduates engaged when you need to deliver important information? Give them sweets. Seriously. Studies (quite alarmingly) prove that court judges make better decisions when they eat sugar every few hours.

Here are three reasons why we loved reading this book:

1) It made us think about how we engage audiences

2) We love learning, and these ideas are part of the science of thinking and learning

3) It helps us in our own work

‘Know your audience’ is a tip all good presenters and communicators give. Knowing how your audience processes information takes this just a bit further. We keep it in mind in all the work we do. So should you.

By Susie Heale

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