Public Speaking – Keeping The Audience’s Attention

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This past week marked the 145th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, almost an afterthought following a 2-hour speech by Edward Everett, a nationally-renowned 19th century orator. Can you imagine not only keeping your audience’ attention during two hours of speech, but keeping them enrapt as well? And, they didn’t have Power Point or an overhead projector to aid them in the process!

As a people we are not as good at listening as we used to be. After 20 minutes of sermon, the coughing, sniffling and sleeping become much more apparent during church services today, while in days past, congregants were treated to preaching lasting more than an hour with services often running for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Our ancestors certainly had occasion to attend plays, musical theater, speeches and parties; but, for the most part, they had to amuse themselves. Unable to turn on the TV or sit at a computer for hours on end, they managed to entertain themselves and they enjoyed listening.

Those of us who teach public speaking emphasize the importance of a strong opening in order to grab your listeners’ attention right from the start. But what happens during the development of your speech or presentation? How do you keep their focus throughout the rest of your delivery whether you are talking for 10 minutes or 45?

●Limit your main points. Books and courses on public speaking stress the importance of creating your speech or presentation with only 2-5 main points. You will be stretching your listeners’ attention span when you start listing your main points, having reached number 14 and you still have 8 more to go!

●Use anecdotes to further clarify or explain your talking points. Listeners value stories that are relevant to your topic because they lend credibility to you as a speaker

●Add humor (when possible). Audiences can always use a laugh. While your function as a presenter is to either inform or persuade, doing so in an entertaining manner can be much more effective than droning on and on.

●In using visual aids, treat them just as that – an aid. They can have a strong impact on your presentation; however, putting your entire speech on Power Point defeats your purpose in presenting.

●Be engaging. Talk to your audience as if you were having a conversation in your living room. Scan the room when you speak, making eye contact with your listeners and acknowledging their presence.

In the ever fast world of today, we want an answer and we want it quickly. We don’t even have to go libraries or open encyclopedias anymore because the information is at our fingertips; therefore, presenting material to an audience requires your ability to keep them focused on you, not on their watches or their smartphones. Captivate your audience and I guarantee they will forget to check the time or their messages.

The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels is a voice specialist and president of Voice Dynamic. Offering corporate and 2-day workshops throughout the US and Canada, Daniels launched Voicing It! in April of 2006, the only video training course on voice improvement. For more information go to:

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