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7 Ways to Get and Keep an Audiences Attention

Devin Bean

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Ever felt as if the stage curtain got more attention during your speech than you did? We'll never speak under ideal conditions: the air conditioner will break, audience members won't want to be there, people will be tired, flies will be buzzing. . . we always must compete for the attention of our audience members. Here's 7 ways to win that competition.

  • Be loud. But not all the time. Make it sudden.

    Haydn wrote his Surprise Symphony partially as a joke - it's quiet, then very suddenly loud! The contrast gets your attention.

  • And be soft. On the other end of the dynamic range, don't be afraid to get soft. If you go from a moderately loud voice to a quiet one, people will naturally focus in on you in order to hear what you are saying. Sometimes you can actually see the audience lean forward.

    (Of course, always be certain you can still be heard. )

  • Tell a joke. It's classic and it works. Everyone likes a good joke, and if you can keep your audience laughing, they'll stay focused on you. My favorite? Q: What's the difference between a bad golfer and a bad skydiver? A: A bad golfer goes, “Whack!". . . "Darn!" A bad skydiver goes, “Darn!" “Whack!"
  • Use a visual aid. Whenever you introduce something new, the audience will refocus. But be certain that the visual aid doesn't distract, otherwise you'll find yourself garnering even less attention than you got before.
  • Move around the room. Don't just stand with your hands behind your back. Make your movements meaningful, and connected to your speech. It gives your audience something to follow, and can add power to your presentation.

    (But don't overdo it!)

  • Involve an audience member. It gives the audience a sense of camaraderie, and lets them listen to someone new for a bit.
  • Ask for feedback. If they're involved, they'll be listening! Ask how many people have done experienced something, or how many people would like to know something. Asking will both help you get to know your audience, and, if you respond to your own questions, will help your audience get to know you.

Remember, if you're trying to keep attention, the cardinal rule is to first eliminate distractions. Once you've done that, fight back! Use the tips above to beat distractions and then to get, and keep, attention.

Visit Audience Analysis for more tips on understanding and working with audience members.

Devin R. Bean is a freelance writer and edits Public Speaking.


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