to Get Attention
A critical psychological element of exerting influence is
first gaining the audience’s attention. The factors listed below describe the
things to which people tend to give attention. You can use these elements in
your introduction to gain attention and throughout your message to hold
This material is largely taken from Ehninger, Douglas, et
al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th Ed.
Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.
Things that move, flash, blink.
Emergency vehicle lights. Mechanical
A message can “move” through a process or history.
Real, concrete, sensual things are more
attention-getting than hypothetical, abstract or mental.
concrete words and images
When you move to a new town, you don’t know where anything is.
When you move to a new town, you don’t know where the grocery store is.
When you move to a new town, you don’t know where the Bi-Lo is.
People pay more attention to things that are near to
them than things that are far away.
of what news stories get your attention.
Refer to things that are recent, immediate or nearby.
to things that preceded your message—the previous speaker.
Refer to someone in the audience.
People pay more attention to things that are familiar.
of what gets your attention when you overhear a conversation in a restaurant.
Draw from what people know.
from things that are unique or special to them. When the prominent 19th
century motivational speaker, Russell Conwell, came
into a new town to give his famous speech, “Acres of Diamonds,” he would first search
out local stories to add to his presentation.
People pay attention to things that are new and
of the Chik-fil-a billboards.
Use new or unusual information to get attention.
Ferraro compared the earnings of men and women:
wanted to find out how many women in America
earn more than $60,000 a year. I picked that number, frankly, because that is
what I, as a member of Congress, earn. I learned that there are only 18,000
women in the entire United States,
working full-time, who earn more than $60,000. We represent just one-tenth of
one percent of all the women who work full-time in America.
By contrast, 885,000 men, 2.1 percent of full-time male workers, are in the
$60,000 plus bracket.
People pay attention to things that build suspense.
The apartment billboard campaign featuring messages to the “Women
The classic horror movie.
you use suspense, observe two cautions:
not make the information seem so difficult or mysterious that your listeners
lose all hope of comprehending it; and
ii. make sure that the information you finally reveal is
important enough to warrant the suspense you have created. Audiences become
irritated when a speaker promises “more about that later” and then either never
gets to the point again or says little of value when he does arrive at the
People pay attention to a good fight.
The hype surrounding boxing. Many TV drama
An introduction or even the entire presentation can
accurate. Avoid the “straw man” fallacy: creating a false statement of your
opponent’s position that can be easily refuted.
People pay attention to things that are funny.
relevant. Beware of wandering from the point under discussion. Jokes and
anecdotes must reinforce rather than divert attention from the central ideas or
Use good taste. Avoid humor on occasions where it would
be out of place, and refrain from using risqué and ethnic humor that may offend
your listeners and detract from the effectiveness of your presentation.
People nearly always pay attention to matters that
affect their health, reputation, property, or employment.
that your topic is critical to your audience’s interests.
Individual members of the audience will vary in their
responsiveness to the factors of attention. With this in mind, you should use a
variety of factors in your presentation. In addition, audience members are
capable of responding to more than one factor; multiple use
will increase the chances of their concentration on your message.
As the discussion of the vital suggests, audiences will
attend to those events that seem to have usefulness for them. By pointing to
the utility of the ideas being presented, and being specific about how and why
the audience can benefit from your message, you will increase the chances of
keeping their attention.
Ideas that appear to be logically related or similar to
one another are easier for an audience to attend to. A disjointed, random
collection of disparate ideas may soon leave an audience thinking about more
useful things. The more an audience can economize by linking thoughts together,
the easier it will be for them to maintain their overall attention to your
Attention researchers Eleanor Gibson and Nancy Rader
point out in their discussion of the advantages of preparedness that “One can
be more attentive as he knows what to expect and what to look for.” Cueing the
audience, or preparing them for what they should expect, can be gained by
forecasting and by transitions.
simply tells the audience what the major divisions of the speech will be:
“First, I will review the two primary reasons for the increase in the Great
White sharks, then I will discuss the major effects of
their presence in the area known as the Red Triangle.” When used as part of the
introduction, forecasting gives the audience an overview of the entire speech
and allows them to anticipate major divisions.
Transitions function as verbal “signposts” indicating
the next major point in the speech: “With this brief history as a basis, let us
next consider the current scene”; “An even more important consideration is . .
. , “Moving on to the second of my three alternatives.
. . ...
- This page was last modified on
Wednesday, August 15, 2001.
- You may contact the instructor at SHKaminski@yahoo.com
- This material is for the exclusive use of the students in Webster
University COMP 5970. Unauthorized use is prohibited.