Public Speaking - Techniques For Maintaining Audience Attention

Dr. Purushothaman
October 1, 2013

An audience will rarely pay attention to your speech automatically; their attention must be sparked and maintained by the speaker. Many factors may cause an audience to become distracted and for their attention to wander, such as boredom.

In public speaking a content-rich speech is the number one factor in keeping the audience's attention. But even with a great speech their attention can wander but with some application, you can maintain and arrest their attention.

Rhetorical questions

A rhetorical question involves the audience and makes them think about the answer. The speaker intends to answer the question, but it arouses curiosity. Be prepared for an unexpected answer from the audience - if the answer is right give thanks. If it is wrong you have an excuse to repeat the highlights of your presentation.

Use Pauses

In public speaking, as with conversation, your audience will almost always react to silence. It quickly increases their attention, they wonder at the reason for the silence. Use a pause when you wish to emphasize a particular word or idea. A pause gives the audience time to digest your point before you move on. It also provides a "breather" for your audience as it is hard work to be attentive when being spoken to non-stop.

State facts in an interesting way

Facts can be dull and they are cold; they do not touch the listener's heart. Listeners will quickly lose interest if bombarded with them. However, facts add weight to your speech. Use facts that are clear concrete and interesting. State them in a way that makes them easy to grasp e.g. don't say: The death rate in China is high, instead use, Every time you breathe someone in China dies.

Visual aids

Using visual aids or holding things up will make your speech more interesting and gain the audience's attention. Select aids that make your ideas clear vivid and effective. For an article to be used to best advantage it must be able to be clearly seen by everyone. The objects used should make good sense and be in line with the points being made. Listeners like visual aids because they deliver variety from too many words.

Use Relevant Stories

People like stories. They have grown up listening to and watching them. To be effective the story should relate to your message. Start your story in a way that engenders anticipation, participation, or curiosity e.g. No-one will talk about this for publication but... Keep the story brief, you want to leave the audience wanting more. To add more interest use conflict, dramatic action, or suspense in the story.

Overuse or inappropriate use will distract the audience and you could lose your audience. Use the techniques discussed in this article to support your speech. In public speaking, it takes time and effort to be interesting and keep the audience's attention. But the results will surely justify the time and effort.


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