It is essential for us to learn how to gain and sustain the attention of our listeners. This does not only apply to professional speakers; it also applies to anyone who needs to pass across a message to other people. It is not enough to know what to say; how we say it matters a lot. If we are aware of the little time we have to interest our listeners, we will take special care to plan our speeches. We must realise that in this technological age, listeners have a choice to either pay attention to our presentations or to ignore them. Having people physically present is not a guarantee that they are paying attention.
As a public speaker, one of your greatest responsibilities is to gain access to the thoughts of your listeners. Since the mind is hardly ever empty of thoughts, you should be able to interrupt their current thoughts and get them to give your words some consideration. You should also be able to keep them listening to you. This is no mean feat at all. For you to grab and maintain your listeners’ attention, you have to do the following:
- Understand your audience: you can never interest the people you don’t know. Your first assignment as a speaker is to study your listeners to identify their interests, desires, fears, expectations and turnoffs. You can do this by asking yourself exploratory questions about your listeners. After making a list of what you need to know about them, attempt to answer the questions through observation. The next step is to seek answers from informed people about the questions you cannot answer yourself.
- Be dynamic: it is not enough to be able to grab the attention of your listeners; it is more important that you sustain it. Attracting attention without sustaining it is like wind without rain. You must develop a system to keep your audience involved in your speech. The more they participate the lesser the tendency of you losing them.