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Can Audience Attention Be Lost From Not Speaking at the Speed of the Audience Mind?


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Can you lose your audience because of not attaining the speed of their mental processing? Too slow or too fast, failure to get the right speed or attain rapport with those listening can result in lost interest and death of attention.

Your listening audience is like the many cars traveling up and down the highways and byways around the world. The majority are going about the same speed for any given road or in the case of public speaking, the presentation they listen to.

When speaking, do you get them up to your speed or do you match their speed. If the latter is true of you, then you understand rapport.

Many good speakers start building rapport before saying a word from the platform. They will meet some of the audience prior to giving their talk. This serves several purposes including allowing you to know their speed to be able to meet their need. This is the key to knowing how fast or slow you will need to go.

The Speed of the Listening Audience

You may be thinking that those listening are made up of numerous different people all going at various speeds. Internally this may be true. Yet many people tend to have cultural similarities. These similarities result in an overall speed of thought that matches others around them.

My first lecture in Southern Virginia resulted in an awakening to cultural differences.
One of the locals who also became one of my speech coaches (and wife) helped me appreciate the difference.

She kindly explained the listening style of the audience. It seems that they were thinking about fixing to getting around to considering the possibility of having a listen to what it was I was going to say. So what ever is said, it should not be said too fast.

It was quite simple to learn to say it slower. All that was required was to cut about 15 minutes of material out of my talk and then give it in the full amount of time alloted for the speech. Lots of pauses, speaking slow and deliberately was essential.

Get up to Speed and Merge with the Introduction

The introduction of the talk is where you get up to the speed of the audience.

Think of the merge ramp getting onto a highway. Many people get on the ramp, drive to the end and then stop. They then wait for an opening to jump into the traffic.

In the North East USA, it seems everyone is traveling at 75 miles per hour on the highways. If you don't get to speed before you get to the end of the ramp, you will have to wait for an opening. If you accelerate to and match the speed of the traffic as you travel down the ramp, you can seamlessly merge into traffic (so long as nobody is stopped at the end).

When speaking in the North East, your talk needs to get up to speed and start getting to the point right away or the mind of the audience will be somewhere else.

If like those driving to the end of the ramp to wait for an opening you delay in getting to the point, the attention could die. Your audience will pass you by and be somewhere else in thought when you finally merge with them.

In the South, the traffic is less hectic on the highway. It is not that they are slow. They are just not rushed. They do not want to be rushed. If you want to rush, they will let you but you will arrive at your point by yourself.

If you want to bring them along with you, you will need to go at their speed.

So just like using the merge ramp as it is intended, the introduction allows you to get up to speed of the audience. That speed is determined by the culture of the audience.

Doing this you will better be able to merge your thoughts into the audience mind. This is called rapport.

One definition is a relationship, mutual trust or inherent emotional similarity.

Note the word similarity. . . and think of merging your thoughts and connecting with the audience mind. When your mind is at the same speed of the audience, you connect to them.

When they give you their attention, then you have the best opportunity to share your message and help them.

Being able to help others, giving to them, is one of the greatest privileges public speakers can have. It can be ours to have if we build rapport, speaking at the speed of the audience mind.

Do you know someone who's speed of speaking is killing the audience? To slow or to fast, share this URL or copy this and give it to them. Make the world a better place to listen to public speaking.

Learn more about audiences and how they listen at

Jonathan Steele, RN coaches and teaches public speaking, is an adjunct instructor at a local community college and an artist.

He is webmaster of He also speaks internationally on Nursing implications related to subjects as diverse as Bloodless Medicine and Surgery, Nursing Communication Skills and Immune Enhancement with Dietary Modifications to Improve Glutathione Levels.

This article is (c) 2008 Jonathan Steele


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