“I am a really good teacher, and as so, I hold people’s attention.” That’s what I tend to think. But when I watch others teach, I realize, “OMG, it’s so easy in the audience – even without technology – to drift off!” And when I allow myself to sneak a peak at my phone, well forget it, down the rabbit hole I go. I was one of about 10 trainers at a conference last weekend, and one of the others was presenting and out of the blue, she said, “What’s your thought on this, Dan?” I had a second of utter fear, as I realized I had drifted off a few minutes back. Fortunately, I had enough of a strand of the conversation to give a half-decent response.
Meetings are so similar. The convener is like the teacher. She is, hopefully, totally focused on every point on the agenda. Meanwhile, others drift in and out. Nor is human attention binary. You are not either focused. Or you’re not. Instead, there is a long spectrum from excited-and-enthused to . . . . . . . . . . completely-tuned-out. Thus, at that conference, I was perhaps 75% attentive, until the speaker put the spotlight on me. Believe me then I was focused. But my prior, attenuated attention caused the quality and insight of my contribution to be about 75%, a straight-up C in a classroom.
My prescription both for the meeting and teaching scenarios is the same. I call it PASRO, for Pair and Share and Report Out. Step One is: I am developing a new “app” in my brain which is like an antennae to measure how tuned in students are. I try not to indulge my pretension that I am utterly riveting, but instead measure the true reality that people are coming and going. Step Two in this imaginary app is that when the readout from the antennae shows “increasingly declining attention” (even when I’m on my favorite idea), I just say “Okay, pair and share. What are your thoughts?”
Immediately, the locus of attention and control shifts. I had been the one person generating coherent ideas for 30 to 700 students, of whom scary percentages were mentally elsewhere. Now 15 to 350 people are talking, and 15 to 350 are listening. Sure, some are still gone; for example: ignoring the assignment, too lost to know what they are being asked to discuss, or otherwise mailing it in. Nevertheless, the difference in the brain energy spent on task is huge. And when I sample their discussions, it’s easier for them to follow, because they have had similar conversations.
One of the secrets to this practice is that it work for Extraverts and Introverts alike. Extraverts thrive off discussion, thinking out loud, kicking ideas around. Introverts are often thought of as wanting pure solitude but they thrive in one-0n-one’s where they can “go deep,” following a single train of thought – their’s or another’s – rather than have to bounce from one idea/speaker to another to another. I’ll also use triads or foursomes, as well. However, LearningX2 brings up the floor, because it makes it hard to exit the conversation, and it raises the ceiling, because a dyad engages intrinsic human needs to gain understanding, create together, and make a real difference with another human being.
Final point: Use PASRO early in the meeting. If I haven’t engaged students – that is, prompted them to active listening and the activity of speaking, within the first 5-10 minutes – I will see their attention drop off considerably.
Might I suggest that you will understand and utilize this concept better if you Pair and Share this topic with another person, so you can each
Lead with your best selves!