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February 2001 - Keeping Their Attention

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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February 2001

Keeping Their Attention

In the October 2000 column I said that inexperienced speakers often start well, but fail to save interesting material for later in the speech. Several folks have asked me to talk more about how to keep audience attention throughout the speech.  Last month's column discussed how to use humor. Another way is effective use of examples.  What makes an example effective?

  1. Clarity.  If the meaning is not clear to your audience, or the inference or connection to the point uncertain, don't use it.  Examples should clarify, not confuse.
  2. Relevance.  Some examples are interesting and illustrative. Unfortunately they are irrelevant.  In their desire to tell a new story or present an interesting piece of information, some speakers use stories that don't relate to the point being made.
  3. Interest.  Keep your audience in mind.  Ask yourself if the example will interest them.  For example:  In discussing leadership with a military audience I might use a story about General Douglas Macarthur, with a religious group I might use one about Moses, with an educational organization I might use an anecdote concerning US Secretary of Education, Dr Rod Paige.
  4. Personal.  Personal experience (things that happened to you) or concrete examples with place names and situations hold an audience's attention and are easier to listen to and remember than abstract examples. They are also generally easier for you, the speaker, to remember and use.
  5. Brevity.  If you are giving a ten-minute speech, you will most likely not want to use an eight-minute example. If you do, it had better be good.

Remember that after gaining the attention of the audience, the challenge is
to hold it.  Use of clear, relevant, interesting, personal, and brief examples is one way.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

February 2001 - Keeping Their Attention
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