Research shows that attention span is greatest at the beginning of a speech, reduces considerably during the middle of your presentation and picks up again towards the end when your audience know you about to finish.
These two articles explain audience attention span in more detail, and how you can try and extend it:
Secondary Point (supports main)
Tertiary Point (supports secondary and main)
You should invest time strategically considering the presentation or speech. This will help you decide on the key message and content about your topic. Here are some points to consider.
Don’t forget to plan! Initial planning will save you time down the line.
Make sure your opening few seconds are memorable as this is when your audience will make up their minds about you. Use a bold sentence to grab their attention, works best with numbers reinforcing your point. An example sentence might be – “After this presentation, I’m confident 50% of you will go out and buy a virtual reality headset.”
This is more focused on presentations but sections can be applied broadly to other general speeches.
You: Introduce yourself confidently and clearly
Audience: Why should I listen to you?
You: Remind the audience the reasons for this presentation
Audience: What’s in it for me?
You: State length of presentation at beginning, “Over the next 15 minutes”
Audience: How long until I can get a coffee?
You: State the main points, “Today I’m going to cover 4 main points”
Audience: Which sections of the presentation are important to me?
You: Clearly state the objective, “By the end of this speech, I would like to…”
Audience: So that’s what you want from me today…
“Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat.
My name’s Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old. I’m from Essex in England and for the last seven years I’ve worked fairly tirelessly to save lives in my own way. I’m not a doctor; I’m a chef, I don’t have expensive equipment or medicine. I use information, education.
I profoundly believe that the power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of life. We have an awful, awful reality right now. America, you’re at the top of your game. This is one of the most unhealthy countries in the world.”
Avoid the following opening comments:
Obama’s speeches are well prepared with a focus on powerful words “A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things“. His speeches use simple language and quotes from famous speeches his listeners can relate to.
For additional trademark Obama techniques, check out How Barack Obama prepares his speeches.
Include colourful slides with minimal text, plenty of images and graphs and an indication of how far through the presentation you are. For additional help on slides design, see the Presentation Skills & Tips page.
The body of your speech is where the majority of the information is. The audience has been introduced to the subject and reasons for the speech. Now you need to present your arguments and examples, data, illustrations backing up your key message.
The best way to build this section is to write down three points you are trying to convey in your speech, your main, secondary and tertiary points. Then write down three descriptions clarifying each of these points. The descriptions should be simple, memorable and meaningful.
The middle of your speech is where the audience start losing attention. Keep this in mind and ensure your message is clear. Use images, jokes and rhetoric questions to keep the audience engaged.
Don’t overwhelm your audience with many points. It is much more valuable to make a small number of points well, than to have too many points which aren’t made satisfactorily.
Similar to the opening, your closing statements should be impactful, re-stating the key message of your speech. We advise learning your ending few lines word for word. The ending is an opportunity to:
Quotation Close – use a famous quote to get the audience’s attention and create a link to your speech.
Bookend Close – refer back to an opening statement and repeat it or add a few extra words to elaborate on it.
Open Question – ask the audience a provocative question or a call to action to perform some task on the back of your speech.
For additional ways to close your speech, read: