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3 Steps to Arrest and Sustain Attention

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

One of the most profound statements I encountered in my graduate studies was, "there's a direct correlation between your ability to communicate effectively and your income and lifestyle."

When the professor in my communication class made that assertion, he impressed upon me a deep desire to give attention to every aspect of communication, test his premise, and apply myself to improving my communication skills and those of anyone who wished to achieve more success and live a better life. The ideas below are a small subset of the expansive disciplines or techniques that help with being a more effective communicator.

Photo Courtesy of Renwick Brutus Media

Whether speaking to an audience of one or many, your message won’t make an impact unless you get and keep their attention. After all, why talk at all if people are not listening? Imagine you’re in the presence of an audience of investors, an auditorium filled with eager learners, or a colleague across the table. Imagine it’s your time to share something important that will build trust, produce beneficial outcomes and positively impact their lives. The possibilities are endless, but only if you arrest and sustain their attention. Here are three simple steps to do so:

1. Pause. The pause is an effective technique when speaking. If you’re making a presentation to an auditorium or arena filled with people, don't expect to observe or hear sidebar conversations. Know that they will occur. And be aware that the chatter will affect the focus of other attendees. It’s hard for you to recognize when that’s occurring and there's no reason to worry about them.

But for those smaller, more intimate conversations in venues where you can see people having sidebars or not paying attention to you, invoke a pause. Especially if there’s a sense that distractions will interfere with the attention of other members of the audience.

When this happens, it's your responsibility to be fair to those who have shown up, are focused, and demonstrate interest in the message you’re sharing. Take a verbal break. Stop for a moment and the silence will naturally lead members of the audience to wonder what’s going on. They’ll look toward you and you'll be able to step in and regain their attention.

2. Act. Seize every opportunity to act in a way that brings all eyes to you. You may change the tone of your voice or exclaim something exciting like, “It’s time to celebrate!” Or maybe, in a hushed whisper, you may share a pivotal gem. Your voice has power to create interest and intrigue, and arrest the attention of a restless audience.

Your ability to use your body language is another gift you possess as a presenter. Crossing arms in a small conversation may signal your frustration, whereas being animated will undoubtedly stop all sidebar conversations and bring the audience back to you. Maybe it's a matter of acting out a piece of your talk or walking around the room to catch their gaze. Using body language is a skill of irresistible communicators that when studied, practiced, and used regularly will retain the attention of your audience and help you improve their attention and learning.

3. Ask. You know this is a powerful way to arrest attention. It works every time. Ask a question of the listener, the audience, or even the individual who’s clearly distracted. You don’t need to do this in a malicious way, but rather, in a playful way. A query that invites creative collaboration, input, or feedback should regularly be included in your conversations. But when you’ve lost your audience’s attention, it’s a surefire boomerang to getting them back. I recommend developing a list of all questions that you can use routinely in all situations. Make them personal and thought provoking, and of interest to the listener. When you find the ones that really grab their focus, make these your go-to attention-getting tools.

One of the most effective speakers I’ve observed, who both arrests and retains the attention of his audience is a pastor, Chuck Swindoll. What I've found particularly effective is his method of elevating his voice. Starting out, he would make a bold pronouncement, enunciating his words, and building a crescendo in his voice that causes the audience to stop whatever they were doing and listen.

He captures and rivets their attention by speaking with great substance. He tells relevant and interesting stories and personalizes the message by speaking in terms of everyday situations, challenges, and accomplishments. His anecdotes and illustrations invariably apply to you because they reflect situations you’ve experienced or will experience at some point in time. He’s incredibly effective at capturing and retaining an audience’s attention. And you can be too.

Whether you’re a leader of a large organization, a keynote speaker, a manager of a team, or a parent who needs to convey critical information to your child, gaining and keeping your audience’s attention is the only way to get your message across. Keep your message on point and relatable, and deliver it with confidence to even the most discriminating audience.

But when attention strays, and it will, remember the steps required to bring it back to you. “Pause, Act, and Ask” are three simple disciplines for arresting and retaining your audience’s attention. Start practicing them today, especially if you desire to become an Irresistible Communicator.

Learn more ways to retain your audience and become an Irresistible Communicator.

Renwick Brutus' career has spanned roles as research economist, investment advisor, entrepreneur and consultant. He holds an MBA from Fordham University and has been recognized for his outstanding achievement in sales and business leadership. Today, Renwick applies his unique blend of business strategy and interpersonal skills to help individuals prosper and companies grow. He owns multiple companies and is in great demand to consult with business leaders. Contact him by email and LinkedIn.

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