It was Bill Bradley, I think, who said something to the effect that becoming number one is much easier than remaining number one. These words may have been spoken in another context; however, you cannot think of a better suited expression to describe the central facet of an art most Americans are fearful of: public speaking!
So, what is the connect between the two, you may ask. This is what I meant: a central facet of public speaking, namely, holding the audience attention, is akin to what is conveyed in this axiom. You can grab people’s attention by making some kind of noise, but the one thing that really matters, namely holding their attention, is of a different order.
In this blog, I will explore some of the areas of public speaking. In particular, I will look into the main aspects of how to hold the audience attention. In offering you my understanding of this topic, I hope to shed some light on how you can do it better the next time you try this with a live audience.
In keeping with my usual practice, I will first let you get a small glimpse of the topic by suggesting a course that will be a great fillip to your basic understanding of this art. Here she goes.
Again, in keeping with another convention, I would like to first describe the outline of my blog. These are what I am going to be talking about:
- How to Capture and Hold People’s Attention
- You have just 7 seconds to grab your audience’s attention! How do You Start a Presentation and Grab Your Audience’s Attention in That Span?
- What are the top presentation skills? What makes a public speaker stand out?
- How to draw my audience’s attention as a public speaker?
How to Capture and Hold People’s Attention
Now, this is the centerpiece of a public speech. Quite rightly so, because it is very simple for your audience to get distracted. How many times has it not happened even to us: we keep staring at the speaker at a presentation, but our minds would be engaged in what vegetables to pick up on the way back home. Have you noticed one thing? We get stumped when the speaker asks us a question about a topic she was talking all this while, just like we get used to get startled back in school whenever a teacher asked us something out of the blue.
That gives us a hint: one of the strongest ways of holding audience’s attention is to engage them. When giving a public speech, the audience may not exactly like to get alarmed with an odd question in the manner of a teacher, but there is a way of gauging their involvement level. Why not nudge them with gentle “what do you think?” or “do you agree?” kinds of questions. This keeps their interest levels up. Make sure you both ask questions that are relevant to what you are saying and are perceptive, and that the audience doesn’t become uncomfortable with them.
You have just 7 seconds to grab your audience’s attention! How do You Start a Presentation and Grab Your Audience’s Attention in That Span?
The tragic fact is that the human attention span has shrunk to such abysmal levels that it is now lower than that of a goldfish. How is that for all our talk of self-proclaimed superiority as a species!
We humans can only hold our attention to a topic for all of eight seconds, after which it starts to get distracted. I don’t challenge this contention, because it is consistently proven that the greater the advances in technology, the narrower the attention span, as this beautiful graphic illustrates:
This leaves us with just seven seconds to grab the audience’s attention and keep it hooked for the rest of the session. So, what all can one do in those seven precious seconds to grab the audience’s attention? This is the basis for retaining their interest over a longer period, sometimes even hours. But note that this is the most important time space at which to make an impact. So, would you start with an introduction? Nothing could be more foolish than that. Don’t they already know who you are and why you have come?
The tactic to employ is to draw their attention to something that has an inescapable association with their lives. Make it imperative for them to listen. This means you start by saying something that will make them want to listen to you. In other words, to grab their attention, make it clear to them why they should listen to you.
I just mentioned the power of startling the audience, but how do you do with just as much mildness and pleasantness as to make them want to listen to the rest of the speech and not so much as to throw them off you? Start by saying something that they least expect to hear, something that will make it curious for them to hear?
Start with something that will ignite their own goals, aspirations, dreams, wishes and ambitions. These are what everyone loves to hear. Starting with a problem statement that is absolutely pertinent for them is a great way to start. For this to happen, you should have a clear idea about your audience.
And then, the next part of the effort is to keep that attention. Now, this is the tougher part of the presentation, as I mentioned at the beginning with the Bradley quote. Have you wondered how we remember all the stories our grandparents used to tell us when we were kids? Why are they so memorable to us, apart from the fact that they were told to us by someone dear to us? It is the fact that they were stories and not monologues or lectures. A raconteur is undoubtedly the most talented speaker. Use the same trick here. Make your presentation informal, associable and easy to remember.
Making a great start and attracting their attention within the first few seconds is one thing. It is the gambit. Keeping the audience’s attention throughout the duration of what could be a lengthy presentation is the next challenge. Like I said earlier, if storytelling is one great technique, the use of at least two tools is sure to hold the audience attention high for lengthy periods:
Use of images:
Have we not heard the age old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words? This is a powerful description when it comes to presentations. Even the most evocative words may not be able to fully capture a sentiment in the way a picture does. The human mind is very fond of images as compared to text. It is nice to reel out numbers about your market. but showing just one slide with an image that has captured these numbers stunningly and putting it in graphically appealing form can make it a lot easier for the audience to relate to. To paraphrase Godfather’s legendary statement, give them something they can’t take their eyes off.
Use of statistics:
Statistics and audience attention? Wondering if I have missed out on something? Isn’t statistics supposed to be the drabbest of subjects? Well, maybe it is, but only if it is made a part of academics. When used in the right proportion, it can be a tremendous value addition to presentations. Alright, I will change it to figures, if you please. Inserted at the right place, and described in the right manner, figures can add a lot of punch to the presentation.
What are the top presentation skills? How to draw my audience’s attention as a public speaker?
In addition to the skills that have been narrated above, I would like to add a couple more. These are skills, that I believe, are hallmarks of a great, at least an above average public speaker.
It is important to keep the narration going, although it may not be uniformly tight at all times. A presentation is much like film screenplay in this sense. Even if there are moments when the pace will have to slacken, it is important to keep it from causing a fall in the audience’s attention.
- Avoid being self-conscious: A speaker who is constantly adjusting his tie or shoes during the presentation shows himself as being self-conscious. This should be avoided, because such mannerisms demonstrate nervousness and divert the attention of the audience. For this to happen, you should be free from fear of facing the audience. Hey, want to learn how to overcome fear of the audience? I have a brilliantly done course that will help you in unimaginable ways!
- Employ self-deprecation: Self-deprecation is a wonderful tool to help the audience associate with you. You don’t have to insult yourself, but making a small remark about an odd physical feature of yours can be a great way to bolster attention.
What makes a public speaker stand out?
Well, a public speaker may employ all of these qualities and be considered a good one. Yet, there are a few characteristics that mark a speaker out and make her stand out. I believe these are some of those qualities:
Passion: Like a teacher, a public speaker should not make a presentation merely to make some bucks out of it. The speaker who stands out is one who has real passion for her art. Her main intention must be to inform the audience and help it out of some or another problem and not just to make an impact.
Eagerness to help: Communication skill is a great talent, but it should be laced with genuine eagerness to convey something that makes the audience more knowledgeable than it was earlier.
This is one trait any human should cultivate. This is all the more important for someone who knows a little more than others in some area. It is not important to just have extra knowledge; one must have the humility to share it and gain satisfaction out of having done so. An egotist, no matter how knowledgeable, is not likely to go down with the audience as much as a humble presenter.
A modest presenter who thanks the organizers for the opportunity given to her to speak. A humble presenter is one who goes beyond this and thanks all the people who helped her with her presentation.
Having understood the importance of holding your audience’s attention, do you agree that these tactics for holding your audience attention are worthwhile and good to implement? Do you think these points are meaningful?
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