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Capturing Your Audience’s Attention - A Case Study

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After a recent newsletter I was contacted by Mamie. She gave me permission to share the following note…

I love the," just for fun questions"! What is a good opening statement for a group of teachers? I really want to capture their attention. Thanks for your weekly articles.

And here is my response.

Hi Mamie,

Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad that you enjoyed them.

You essentially want to grab their attention. You could use a rhetorical question, a humorous story, or a controversial or absurd statement as a few examples. What is your subject/theme of your speech? Let me know and we’ll brainstorm.

By the way, are you a teacher?


Mamie responded with

Thanks David for your immediate response. I just retired from 31 years of teaching in Georgia. Now, I 'm employed through an educational agency for school support as a reading consultant. I'm getting ready for a reading workshop with teachers. I still feel nervous whenever I get ready for presentations. I just want to capture and keep my audience's attention, and do the very best job. My workshop is just a "Struggling Readers" workshop. I'm just delivering information.

My suggestion for Mamie

What if you started off with a controversial statement such as:

Learning the foundations of phonics (or insert whatever appropriate skill here) at an early age has no impact on young readers abilities to overcome obstacles.

Then you could say something like:

“Ladies and gentlemen that is the thought that I had 31 years ago when I started teaching…”


“In his/her discussion of whole language, X makes this startling statement.”

You could then go on and discuss why you disagree with the opening statement. Your conclusion could come back and address your thoughts from 31 years ago or X’s sentiments.

What you are essentially trying to do is shock them into paying attention. It is important to be honest. Don’t mention yourself unless you did hold that sentiment. Since people hold a wide variety of opinions it’s not usually to difficult to find someone who has an opinion contrary to yours.

Best regards


Finally, Mamie responded with

Thanks David, Wow! Great suggestions! I look forward to more valuable info.

Now thoughts for you, the reader…

Remember that you want to accomplish two things in your introduction. You want give the audience an idea of what you are going to be talking about. One way that this accomplished is by quickly highlighting (or listing) the points that you are going to be covering; similar to the way that radio and television news list the top stories at the beginning to try and get you to stay tuned.

The second thing you want to do is grab your audience’s attention. You want them to be so captivated by you, that they wouldn’t dare take their attention off. As I mentioned to Mamie, there are a number of opening techniques that you can use to accomplish this.

A humorous story, a rhetorical question, some sort of audience interaction, or even an unusual entrance can all be effective. The quotes that I suggested to Mamie are intended to shock the audience. Why? I suspect that a large number of them will plan to pay only partial attention, because it is in their area of expertise. Mamie needs to get their attention right from the start and then captivate them so that they won’t want to take it off of her.

How is this useful to you? I didn’t invent this technique for Mamie. In fact, I have started off a number of talks on public speaking to audiences of 300+ members with the statement, “I have no interest in public speaking at all”. I then go on to explain that was my feeling 16 years ago.

Take this concept and apply it to a presentation that you have, where you have to grab people’s attention. It is extremely effective.

David Mudie

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