Keeping Attention

Two separate experiences have reminded me of the difficulties that surround not just engaging an audience, but of actually maintaining their interest.  In one paper this morning, a “communications consultant” trots advice out for Gordon Brown.  As one of the most woeful, uncharismatic and convulted speakers imaginable, poor old Gordon could do with advice from any quarter.

Of course, grabbing and then holding attention can only be built upon the fundamental pillar of supreme message quality.  And Gordon will never be able to call upon that.  But the key advice offered is to pause every five words.  I’ve always realised that pausing is a highly effective tool, but did not quite grasp precisely how frequent it should really be.

Then yesterday I enjoyed lunch with a barrister friend of mine.  Completely independently, we got to discussing techniques for influencing the dutiful civic dozen.  One cracking story from many moons ago concerned a long-since retired wig called Bob Watson.

When he was either unsure of, or required to rally, a jury’s call, as he stood to begin his closing argument, he’d accidentally ‘break’ his spectacles.  After a brief interlude of bedlum, he’d continue to speak.  It could take half-an-hour for him to make his final case.  During this entire time, he’d be fiddling with his broken glasses.  As he concluded, he would manage to successfully ‘fix’ them.

He believed that throughout, the jurors were transfixed on his repair efforts, and as a result, uniquely concentrated on what he was saying.  He apparently considered that this helped present many a victorious defence.

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