Big Game Hunting: How Public Speakers Capture An Audience’s Attention

by drjim on August 3, 2010

You Can't Go Hunting If You Don't Know What You Are Looking For

You Can’t Go Hunting If You Don’t Know What You Are Looking For

In the world of big game hunting, the goal always seems to be to try to hunt something bigger and more deadly than you did last time. The world of public speaking isn’t all that much different except that we go looking for the biggest game of all: an audience’s attention.

Do The Unexpected

Face it, we’re all jaded. We live in a world where we expect to be updated instantly via iPhone or Blackberry, we get text messages whenever something important happens, and we can get virtually any type of food within about a mile of where we currently are. What the heck do you have to offer us as a speaker that is going to cause us to pay any attention to you?

David Green is a speechwriter who has to deal with this wandering attention thing as a part of his job every day. He’s got some suggestions on just exactly what you need to do as a public speaker in order to keep that audience of yours hanging on your every word.

First off, David suggests that you pay attention to what your audience is expecting you to say. Do they know who you are? Have they heard you speak before? Are you just like a bunch of other speakers? If any of these are true, then it’s time to shake things up just a bit.

David suggests that you do the exact opposite of what your audience is expecting you to do. If they are expecting you to deliver a speech standing behind a podium, then get out in front of everyone. If they are expecting you to use 100’s of slides, then don’t use any at all. These types of dramatic departures from the ordinary will catch your audience by surprise (in a good way) and they’ll be forced to pay attention to you because they’ll want to know what’s going to happen next.

Accent, Accent, Accent

Nope, we’re not talking about having you sound like Crocodile Dundee or like you are from the U.S. deep South, instead we’re talking about what else is going on on stage while you are speaking. Like PowerPoint.

How much time do you typically spend on the PowerPoint presentation that you are going to use with a speech? As much or more time than you spend on the speech itself? Forget all that fancy stuff, the real star of any speech is you. Make sure that if you decide to use slides that they accent (softly) what you are saying and don’t steal the show from you.

It’s Play Time!

So just what is a speech? If you’re not careful, it’s 20-30 minutes of pure boredom for your audience. If you don’t want to inflict this kind of pain on your audience, then you’ve got to entertain them. I’m not saying that you’ve got to make them laugh (although that might be a good idea), instead I’m trying to let you know that you’ve got to give your speech in a way that will hold their attention.

There are lots of ways to do this. Telling great stories is one way to do it. Slowly unveiling a discovery that you’ve made is another. How you do it isn’t as important as just making sure that you do it.

What All Of This Means For You

Just like a big game hunter, when you are giving a speech you are stalking prey. Your elusive quarry does not have four feet, but rather is sitting in a chair with four legs.

Your goal is to capture and hold your audience’s attention for your entire speech. In order to do this you’re going to have to get creative. Doing the unexpected is one way to keep them guessing – and paying attention to you. Make sure that your PowerPoint doesn’t overpower what you are saying and make sure that you tell a story or two or three.

In the end, you’ll know if you’ve done a good job because the audience won’t want your speech to have ended – they were having a great time listening to you. You’ll know that you’ve had a successful hunt if you get asked to come back and present again!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: What should you do if you sense that you are starting to lose an audience’s attention while you are giving a speech?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So there you are: you’ve agreed to give a speech and now your mind has gone completely blank when you’ve tried to start to figure out what you’ll say. Where did your energy go? Perhaps more importantly, how are you going to get it back and create a great speech?

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