This Is Why Your Audience Isn’t Paying Attention To You…

by drjim on May 17, 2011

What Your Speeches Need Is Some Spicing Up…

What Your Speeches Need Is Some Spicing Up…

Ever get the feeling that your audience just isn’t listening to what you are telling them? I mean sure, they seem to be with you at the start of your speech and then they seem to show up once again at the end, but how’s that middle part going for you? Researchers have studied what’s going on with your audience during the middle of your speech and let’s just say that it’s not good – they are checking out. Looks like we’re going to have to have a talk here – let’s find a way to keep them on board…

Why Your Audience Is Leaving You

If you need to understand why your audience is checking out half-way through your speech, then the first thing that you need to realize is that you talk too slow. Well, not really.

A better way to say what’s going on is that your audience is thinking too fast. Research has shown that the human mind has the ability to comprehend words that come at us at up to 600 words per minute. The problem here is that you and I talk at a rate of 120-200 words per minute.

Now there’s nothing wrong with the way that we’re speaking, it’s just that we’re giving our audience a lot of spare mental time to start to think about other things while they wait for us to say more. If we’re not actively working to hold on to their attention, then they are very quickly going to be thinking about other things.

Just to make things a bit worse, the folks up at the Northwestern School of Speech have done some studies and they’ve discovered that the attention span of an audience is roughly 9 seconds. Ouch!

What You Can Do To Get Your Audience To Stay Focused

Now that you know that you’ve got a problem on your hands, you’re going to have to figure out what to do about it. If there is any good news in this it is that you do have the audience’s attention at the beginning and at the end of your speech – they perk up and listen to what you have to say during both of these times.

Thankfully, the researchers have looked into our problem and they have a suggestion for us. What they tell us is that our audience needs to have their attention grabbed every 6-8 minutes during the body of our speech.

There are a lot of different ways to go about doing this attention grabbing. Books have been written on how to use everything from eye contact to body language to keep your audience engaged in what you are saying. However, there is another way

The really good speakers, politicians, know how to wake their audience up after they’ve started to grow restless with the droning on of a typical political speech. They tell their audience that they are getting ready to wrap things up (‘… in conclusion…”). This causes the audience to start to pay attention again.

However, all too often the politician doesn’t wrap things up – they just keep on talking. After a while, they will once again communicate that they are going to be wrapping things up and the audience will again perk up.

This may not be a technique that you want to use all the time. However, at least now you’ll have it in your back pocket to use if you need it.

What All Of This Means For You

Listening to a speaker for 30, 60, or even 90 minutes is a hard job for an audience to do. In fact, it’s so hard that often they don’t do it – they’ll drift off and start to think about other things during the middle of that speech that you worked so hard on.

In order to prevent this from happening and to boost the probability that at least some of what you are saying will get into your audience’s heads, you need to change the way that you deliver your speech. You need to “wake up” your audience every 6-8 minutes with a startling statement or the appearance that you are starting to close your speech.

By realizing that your audience will start to drift off during your speech and taking steps to keep them onboard, you can become a much more effective speaker. This means that you will need to map out your speech and make sure that you include the spicy parts that will wake up your audience and make them hungry for more of what you are serving…

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

Question For You: Do you think that it is ok to pretend that you are getting ready to close your speech multiple times?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Giving a speech is hard. Delivering an eulogy can be downright impossible. However, if we are asked to give one by people who are grieving, thenwe need to step up and do a good job of it. Since you are being asked to give the eulogy because you knew the person who passed on, this can be one of the most difficult speeches that you’ll ever give. I can’t make it any easier, but I can show you how to do it well…

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Maitiu MacCabe May 19, 2011 at 8:06 am

No, I don’t feel it’s good idea to pretend “wrap” your speech several times.
Hearing the words “in conclusion”, your audience reckons there is little of further importance coming to them, and mentally depart for lunch or coffee.

The highlights you mention are the way to grab /retain their attention, or switching on / off your projector, switching to a different medium, or asking them an intruiging question. There are many methods to retain audience attention or wake them up without the use of technique you suggest.

Regards,
Maitiu MacCabe,Dublin, Ireland.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson May 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

Maitiu: ouch! Ok, I’ll go along with the fact that there are several ways to accomplish this. Here’s the big question: what has worked best for you — how do you hold on to your audience’s attention? Do you use words, actions, or something else?

Reply

Fred E. Miller May 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Very interesting Post.

Humor, relevant and good, interjected throughout a talk, is also a good way to keep their attention.

Using visuals, like PowerPoint and other Props, is also a good idea that gets the attention of the audience visually.

Thanks for the information!

Reply

Mark May 25, 2011 at 3:14 am

You made some good points. Often times, our audience have already switched off some where during our speech, and now i know it’s important to make effort to keep our audience attention!

Look forward to your next posts!

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson May 27, 2011 at 9:32 am

Mark: thanks! You bring up a very good point — it might not even be our fault. If you find yourself speaking after a very boring speaker has just wrapped up, you’ve got the double whammy to deal with: overcoming the audience’s boredom with the previous speaker as well as getting them excited about what you’ll be talking about!

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