Holding your audience — how to keep ’em listening

I found an article full of great advice on holding your audience. The headline grabbed my attention immediately, but then—irony of ironies—the copy lost it immediately.

Before I got to the advice the headline promised, I had to wade through nearly 200 words of nonsense, mostly irrelevant data points. Some mentioned twice! I’m going to blame the editor here, for trying to put a fancy hat on an otherwise perfectly serviceable listicle.

It’s a sad, sad thing when Good Writing Goes Bad. So let’s see if I can salvage the meat of the article for you (paraphrasing heavily).

The do’s and don’ts of holding your audience

Don’t use jargon. I beat this drum often, so couldn’t agree more.

Do be authentic. Again, an essential point.

Don’t, um, say “um” or other filler words. Er…enough said.

And she adds some things I haven’t thought about, but which make sense:

Don’t speak in a monotone. Chris Anderson devotes an entire section of his fine book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking to “Voice and Presence.” If you need help to speak naturally, that’s a great place to start.

Don’t be dismissive of other people or their ideas. Excellent advice for everyone, not just speakers. While it may work in some settings (see: Trump, Donald J.—Primaries), it can backfire badly in others (see: Trump, Donald J.—First Presidential Debate). Unless 100% of your listeners share 100% of your views—and how could you possibly know that?—going negative puts people into a defensive frame of mind. If you want folks to be open to your ideas, you need to find commonalities with them. Don’t put them on the defensive.

Do pay attention to physical and social cues. Make eye contact with your listeners. Offer them opportunities to interact with you—whether you take questions during the presentation or in a Q&A afterward. And if you’re on a panel or even just in a one-on-one conversation, respect other people’s personal space.

I’ll add one Don’t that didn’t make it into the article:

Don’t try to buy credibility by throwing in unnecessary data. Not everything needs a statistic. That’s the biggest key to holding your audience: Get to the point and stay there.

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