Last week I spoke to a group of junior-highers twice a day for five days.

As you know, junior-highers have a short attention span. A distraction or three sentences of boring content can cause the attention to be diverted away from the speaker.

The great thing about kids this age is that we know if we have attention and if we have lost it. Adults may be polite and still pretend to listen, but kids often let you know through body language when they are no longer paying attention.

To make this situation more challenging, I spoke in an open air building with a roof and open sides. Bugs buzzing, heat simmering, and tired campers all led to a greater challenge to hold attention.

To keep attention with this kind of audience and any audience, I seek to use the 7 speaking tips below.

Tip #1: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Have you noticed the following.  A speaker is droning on and on, but then says, “5 years ago I was walking behind my house…” Attention gets snapped back.

Stories, even poorly told stories, hold attention and quickly grab attention.

In addition to giving a healthy dose of stories, I keep some in reserve. I may need to tap into them when attention wanes.

Keep the stories coming and the attention will stay glued to you.

Tip #2: Tell a Story, Make a Point

I heard one speaker mesmerize the audience with dozens of personal stories. Later, I turned to my brother-in-law and asked, “What was the point?”

Where was the life changing content? Where were the tips or truth that we could hang our hat on and improve our life?

There were none.

Have a main point with every story. You may make the point and then tell the story. Or you may tell the story and then make the point. Just have a point.

A couple examples from this week:

– Story about nearly failing 7’th grade in school.

– Point: Stop blaming, start changing.

– Story about starting my rock business and nearly quitting.

– Point: Keep on Driving

Tell stories and add points.

Tip #3: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Outlines. Our English teachers railed on the importance of having an outline. Speech coaches do the same.

I push the Speech Tree™ in Become a Better Speaker in One Evening.  It allows people to quickly create speeches.

However, just throwing main points out is like tossing  your coat against the wall and expecting it to stay there. It won’t. It’ll slide right down and the points will zip past the audience with next to zero retention.

If we package the point with a story, that story acts like a hook. The points are retained and remembered.

Tip #4: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Great speakers use this formula.

Jesus used it with His parables. Mark Twaine used it. Bill Gove, the father of Professional Speaking, popularized the phrase.

My father always told me, “Find out what works and do it.” This formula works. Use it.

Tip #5: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Do these stories have to be complex? Nope.

Patricia Fripp said, “It is better to tell a simple story well, than a complex story poorly.”

Write down a past experience from your life every day for a month. Now you have 30 stories.

Tip #6: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Many speakers bury their head in their notes and rarely come up for air. By telling stories, especially personal ones, you can easily tell them from memory.

On your little note card just list:


You can look like a pro and use minimal notes.

Tip #7: Tell a Story, Make a Point

Stories stick in our minds like a glue trap to cat’s fur (I know from experience). If the point is properly attached to the story, the point will stick also.

I still remember stories speakers shared from ten years ago. Many of the points are still stuck in my mind.

You can become a speaker who holds attention and has a sticky message. Learn more by reading Made to Stick.

Let’s wrap this up.

Many audiences have short attention spans. You can hold attention and communicate effectively by using these 7 tips and telling a story  and making a point.

Arlen Busenitz

Arlen Busenitz is an experienced speaker with over 650 presentations. He is Author of several books, CD's,and creator of Become a Better Speaker in One Evening™

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