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News: Associations News

Attention deficit part 1: why speakers and audiences fail to connect

18 September 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Katie Spackman
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Public speaking is a joy. The opportunity to stand in front of a group of people whose faces you can see, whose attention you will have for a few short moments, who are still and silent, who are interested and have come to listen to you. Think of all the things that could happen by making the most of this opportunity for you personally and for the organisation you represent. 

There’s so much potential there. But there’s also a problem. 

Much of what makes for successful speaking is about gaining and maintaining attention. And now, more than ever before, our attention for each other is in short supply. In the first part of a two-part article, Trainer and Coach John Scarrott, explains why this is a problem. Next time, he’ll suggest how speakers can manage the situation, deliver successfully and thrive as a result.

Our distracted minds

Speaking to an audience in the world we inhabit today is both a special moment and significantly tougher than at any other time in living memory. Consider, for example the way an audience ‘shows up’ to listen to a speaker. There is a greater possibility than ever that their attention will wander. They could be drawn away by the lure of their mobile phone during the session, to see what else is going on. It might be the rumble of an incoming text or email. It could be through their tablet or laptop as they make notes. Or it could simply be that their mind wanders more easily than at any other time because we live in a distracted age. As a speaker, this is what you are faced with, and as a result you have to work harder than ever to keep your audience with you.
And then, consider also yourself as a speaker. Are you immune from this distraction yourself? Consider for example, how you prepare for your speaking occasion. What happens to your attention over this period? How focussed are you when planning what you will say and how you will say it? And what about when you rehearse? It’s equally likely that you will be faced with a similar level of distraction to that of your audience, albeit at a different time. This is especially true if you’re taking on a speaking arrangement as an extra-curricular activity. Finding the quiet time to think deeply can be a challenge.

When distraction gets to work on the attention of both a speaker and their audience, it can easily drive a space between the two. The greater the space, the higher the likelihood that a failure to fully connect will occur. This leaves both sides worse off and creates missed opportunities. 

What can be done?

More speaker attention leads to more audience attention

The responsibility for closing the gap falls to the speaker. It’s up to you to capture your audience’s attention and make them forget their phones, their office. How to achieve this? It’s simple but not easy. You have to do exactly the same thing for yourself. You have to pay attention to yourself, to your idea, to your audience and to the practicalities of what’s coming up. By doing this, you will create an impact and receive your audience’s attention back in return.

The most important aspect of a successful speaking engagement is how you prepare. This is all about what you pay attention to and then how you attend to it. There are two things to pay particular attention to that will really help you gain control over your own attention. By doing so, you will release lots of other good things. They’re the building blocks of a great speaking performance for you. 

The first is time. And the second is content. Next time I’ll share with you how to how to attend to both.


John is leading the AAE Masterclass in Presentation Skills for Association Executives on 22 October in London.  Find out more here

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with Association professionals on their approach to public speaking, presentations, selling and networking. A former Membership Director, he is an international speaker and has spoken in the UK, Europe, India and Australia. He is an ICF Associate Certified Coach (ACC), one of only 25000 credentialed coaches worldwide. He is the retained coach and trainer in Public Speaking for the AoAE and the Presentation Skills trainer for the Institute of Direct Marketing.  You can find out more about him at


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