(This is Part 10 in the Communicator’s University series. Read Part 9 here.)
I have a friend who sits in the back row at church, in an aisle seat. His wife sits right next to him, and during the sermon, when it gets long and redundant, Bill looks at her and says, “Ya got it?” If she nods they slip out and head home for football. They’ve got an internal barometer that says, “We’re done”. They figure they’ve heard everything they’re gonna hear, and they don’t need to take another lap.
We all have that barometer–and mine starts to make noise at about 18 minutes. If I’m not engaged then, the pressure builds up and I realize I’m not engaged. For me, it can happen with just about anything. (When I’m out running, I first start to look at my watch at about 18 minutes. If I’m reading, the same thing.) Anyway, it’s certainly true to form when I am listening to a public speaker. At about 18 minutes I notice that I’ve lost interest or become bored. Then I notice that I’m noticing, and the cycle begins. Tick-tock.
How can a speaker maintain interest so he or she can be listened to well for the duration?
Let’s assume that you’ve played by the rules and during your introduction you’ve gotten my attention, raised my need to listen, and have oriented me to your subject matter. So far, so good. You’ve got me, now keep me. It’s your job to continually maintain tension. If you do that, I’ll stay, and I’ll be the better for it.
How to learn the art of maintaining tension? If you’re serious about this, here’s a suggestion. Watch an episode of NBC’s Dateline. Watch how they create tension before every commercial break. This is the basic principle, especially when you are making transitions in your talk. Raise a question, and take your time getting to the answer.
How to maintain need while you’re speaking?
- Tell a story. You’ve got a personal illustration you can use.
- Read something out loud. See my post on that.
- Interview someone. Never give them the microphone or they can run rampant, but you can ask them a couple of questions.
- Introduce an object lesson. Once I started eating an apple while I presented., without explanation. As I got to the core I said, “You know, anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”
The point is to realize that people will drift. Good communicators continually raise need to keep people in suspense. My suggestion is that you do that in a meaningful way at least at the 18 minute mark, or I’m heading home for football.