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Friday, August 14, 2009

Generating Audience Attention To The Speech- Important Aspect For The Speaker

Communication is a great skill to possess. And speaking skill is an important corner stone of overall communication. During speaking, speaker need to generate audience's attention to the speech. Without attention, it is very difficult for the speaker to share their ideas with their audience successfully. And in that case, total communication failed. So to have an effective communication, speaker need to generate enough attention in to the speech so that he can gain success in his speaking skill as well as in the total communication.

After making clear who and what you are, you must launch into your subject without delay. Don’t beat about the bush for several minutes, get into the meat of the subject straight away. One way of starting the talk is to put a question in the audiences’ minds. Do they know how the raw material for the process is prepared? Have they thought about whether the I/O routines can be speeded up? Do they realize the financial drain on profitability which spoilage causes? Such a tactic focuses their attention on the issue, and helps them to listen positively to the information which follows it.

Another way of directing attention to a problem is an arresting quotation from a dissatisfied customer. Another way might be a photograph of a structure which has collapsed. It is also useful to point out how the present talk fits into previous talks, and a question related to the last presentation will help to remind the audience of what they already know, and how this new presentation will fit in. All these tactics have one central aim—to make sure the listeners realize what the purpose of the talk is, so they can fit the new information they are being given during the talk into a familiar conceptual pattern. Often speakers ignore this need to bring the subject into sharp focus at the beginning of the talk. In many presentations the consequences of neglect of the ideas and information are described at the end, rather than the beginning. In one lecture on dietary control, for instance, slides of the deformities which resulted from malnutrition were shown at the end; they would have been better shown at the beginning, so the audience could visualize the problems to be solved. ‘These show what can happen; what can we do to prevent it?’ would have made an excellent opening to the talk.

Asking questions is the best way to promote thought. Such questions may be only rhetorical, and not expect an answer from the audience, but Sime and Boyce showed that rhetorical questions raised the level of attention, and improved the amount of learning.1 We are so conditioned to provide answers to sentences in question form, that our minds are subconsciously aroused towards an answer, even if we remain silent. Asking questions is an effective way of introducing a topic.

Other methods may also be used to increase interest and arousal. Advertisers typically use irrelevant messages about sex, status and emotions before selling their product. In the same way a stimulating fact or picture will arouse the audience and improve their reception of a quite different message which may follow. Remember Hillaire Belloc’s aphorism: ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them that you’ve told them.’ The job of the introductory sentences is to arouse interest in what you are going to tell them, by telling them. Then the talk can go on to expand the subject, assured of attention from the listeners.

The need to arouse and prepare the audience is confirmed by psychological research. Many experiments show that unless the receiver is guided in how to decode the message, he may perceive something different. Psychologists have shown that knowledge about what a person is going to hear can change what he thinks he does hear:

The English psychologist David Bruce recorded a set of ordinary sentences and played them in the presence of noise so intense that the voice was just audible, but not intelligible. He told his listeners that these were sentences on some general topic—sports, say—and asked them to repeat what they heard. He then told them that they would hear more sentences on a different topic, which they were also to repeat. This was done several times. Each time the listeners repeated sentences appropriate to the topic announced in advance. When at the end of the experiment Bruce told them that they had heard the same recording every time—all he had changed was the topic they were given—most listeners were unable to believe it. With an advance hypothesis about what the message will be we can tune our perceptual system to favour certain impressions and reject others.

We may think that the experiment was unfair on the listeners; perhaps they were only trying to please when they invented sentences! But the central fact remains; we hear what we expect to hear. Therefore, if what is going to be said in a talk is announced at the beginning, the listeners more easily receive the message. Another experiment supports the same conclusion. Psychologists measured the effect of mental ‘set’ in perception by asking their subjects to repeat words which were flashed quickly in front of them, but after they were given different expectations about what they were going to see. In a typical experiment people were briefly shown the name of an animal, such as ‘horse’. One group were told they would see the name of an animal, another that they would see the name of a flower, and the third only that they would see a word. People who were expecting to see the name of an animal recognized the word most quickly and made fewest mistakes. People who were not expecting to see any particular word did second best. And those who were expecting to see the name of a flower made most mistakes when shown the name of an animal. They also reacted more slowly.

Listening to a complicated explanation, or a mass of unfamiliar facts, is similar to seeing words flashed too briefly in front of your eyes, or listening to a voice over a harsh mash of noise. They are all situations where the message must be disentangled from distractions. What the audience is told about the subject of the talk will condition what they understand the talk to be about. This is why it is so important to arouse interest in the subject, and be clear about what the purpose and content of the talk is going to be, in the first few minutes of the talk.

It is surprising how easily people are misled by what they expect to see, rather than what they actually do see. Abercrombie uses the following example. Read these labels quickly:

  • ONCE
  • BIRD

Only when asked to look more carefully do most people notice that the ‘a’ and ‘the’ are repeated in the middle of the phrase. We don’t expect to see it, and therefore we don’t see it. But if we are told, we see it easily. Telling people what they are about to perceive will radically affect what they do perceive. The conclusion for the speaker is clear. Telling your audience in advance what to expect is an essential part of presenting information to them. In the face of such clear evidence, it is inexcusable to omit the preparation and warning phase of the talk. The subject must be made clear in the opening moments of the presentation.