Master Your Message Blog

Beware Distractions

I am often amazed at my capacity to miss the obvious. This is one of those cases.

It involves the use of video. Now, as a professional writer/producer/director for some 35 years, you’d think I’d be past the stage of making mistakes. But no. On the other hand, this is a great learning moment for us all.

I have been known to rant about the tremendous power of distractions to take your audience’s mind off what you’re saying. It’s one of the keys to being successful as a presenter – keeping the distractions in the room as minimal as possible.

I was in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada about a week ago speaking to an audience of the “Canadian Association of Professional Speakers” about the use of video on the web. Specifically, I was urging them to use this medium to promote themselves and their expertise (as I do).

I use Apple’s Keynote as support and I clicked to a screen containing one of my videos. The purpose was twofold. I wanted to use it as an example of how to use it to convey a message succinctly on the home page of a website. But, I also wanted their opinion.

You see, the background I was using had been bugging me. Every so often, someone would mention that the working fireplace was distracting. It took their attention off me, the presenter, if even for the briefest period.

That is a concern – particularly as I’m the one who rants against distractions and how detrimental they can be to connecting with the audience. So, I asked the audience, “Is the fireplace in the background a distraction?”

A fairly resounding, “Yes.”

I wasn’t really surprised. At that point it was just confirmation to something I had sensed. Haha … from comments from viewers. “Sensed” probably isn’t the right word. It was getting a bit obvious that I had a problem.

Now, here’s what I knew but didn’t pay attention to when I decided to use the fireplace in the first place:

  1. The human eye is attracted by light. What that means is that what you want the audience to focus on should be the brightest element on the stage. YOU should be that item – hopefully fairly well it. If you’re using a screen, then make sure the background is not a light color. And turn off the picture when it doesn’t relate to a story or longer passage.
  2. The human eye is attracted to movement. When you’re on stage, nothing should move other than you. If you have animation on the screen, then IT should be the center of attention at that moment. Just don’t try to compete against animation unless you’re extremely compelling.

That Edmonton conversation was about a week ago. Today, I have a new background – without a bright, flaming, animated fireplace. Better, I think. Less distracting. And a really good lesson. It will take me a bit of time to change all my videos, but I certainly will.

No distractions!

Comments for this Post

  • Alan Marshall January 23, 2011, 2:50 am

    Dear Peter,

    It isn’t your capacity to miss the obvious that should amaze you. No, it’s your capacity to state the obvious, over and over and over again.

    Love you, AM

  • nurse anesthetist January 24, 2011, 11:00 am

    What a great resource!

    • Peter Temple January 24, 2011, 11:24 am

      Thanks for the kind words.


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