Keeping focused in a distractive speaking environment

My last two speaking gigs have been concurrent session talks.  This means that I must compete with other seminars/panels and keynote for audience, noise-throughput and attention.  This is a highly unusual situation for me as I usually give keynotes during general sessions. 

Given the state of the meetings industry, I’ll do keynotes, concurrent sessions, one-on-ones, etc. — no complaints from this dude.  However, I must say, it is a terrible environment for a speaker.  First of all, the audience is constantly wondering, “Should I duck out to another session?”  I call them “conference shoppers.” They stop in, give you a few minutes to connect and move on.  When you give a keynote, there is no where else to go but the trade show — and it is waiting for them at the end of your talk.

Then there’s the issue of the speaker next door.  I’m shocked that yesterday the group I spoke for put me next to another session, where the speaker blared a soundtrack of wild geese and duck calls to punctuate his speech, causing me to have to step down from the platform and walk deep into the audience so I could hear myself.  It was, to say the least, a learning experience.  

Today, I was in a similar situation, except I didn’t have noise issues to compete with.  I learned from yesterday though, and today I was able to stay very focused on on point.  Many of you find yourself frequently in this situation, though, so here are some tips to keep your focus during such environments. 

1. Hustle your audience in the hallway, play killer music in your meeting room and welcome everyone that comes in.  Shake his/her hand and thank them for coming to your panel as opposed to another. That’ll keep them from ducking out if they hear laughter in the other room, etc. 

2. If there is distractive noise, acknowledge it to your audience and ask for your A/V person to turn you up in the system.  If there is a noise breakout next door, stop talking until it subsides. 

3. Don’t worry if people come and go.  Focus instead on the ones that are listening to you and taking notes.  Keep eye contact and focus your energy on moving your active attendees to action.  Ask for people to give examples of what you are advocating and give up the mic for a minute in a Phil Donahue style interactive move. 

4.  Remember: It’s not about you.  It is about your message and if you change the life of just one person (and score well on the evaluations) you are making a difference and will continue to stay in high demand.  

As my fave speaking coach/author Nick Morgan frequently says: The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.  It’s not about being the center of undivided attention.