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Public Speaking: Types of Attention Getters


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About this Lesson

  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 9:53
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 105 MB
  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Public Speaking. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers getting started, preparing a speech, presenting the speech, audience considerations, types of speeches, small group communication, and more. The course features three renowned professors: Jess K. Alberts of Arizona State University, Brenda J. Allen of the University of Colorado at Denver, and Dan West of Ohio State University.

Jess K. Alberts is a professor of communication at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, where she was Director from 1995 until 2004. She currently serves as Director of the Conflict Transformation Project and is an associate with Project for Wellness and Work-life. Her research appears regularly in academic journals, and she recently co-authored “Human Communication in Society”. Undergraduates at Arizona State honored her classroom teaching skills with a "Last Lecture Award," and she has twice been a finalist for Professor of the Year at ASU. A nationally known speaker on interpersonal communication, Professor Alberts has given numerous presentations across the country on humor, conflict, and developing and maintaining a passionate life.

Brenda J. Allen is departmental chair and a professor of communication at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, where she teaches organizational communication. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on organizational communication and diversity and she serves on the editorial boards of several communication journals. In 2004, she authored the book “Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity”. While at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, she has been recognized with the First Annual Award for Outstanding Achievement for Commitment to Diversity and she received the Francine Meritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in Communication from the Women’s Caucus of the National Communication Association. Professor Allen is frequently invited to speak at community and professional events.

Dan West is the John A. Cassese Director of Forensics at Ohio University. Previously, he was a distinguished lecturer at Rice University, where he also acted as Director of Forensics. Under his direction, the team consistently placed in the top ten at national debate tournaments. While at Rice, Prof. West won the Outstanding Faculty Associate for Brown College (1999) and the award for Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences (four times). He is well known for using his engaging speaking style in a variety of settings; his annual presentation of the Rice University Alcohol Policy to the freshman class was always a hit.

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An elderly woman finds her cat in the rain. She's very upset and wants to dry him off quickly, so she decides to put him in the microwave. Within seconds, he blows up.
Did you know that four out of ten women get pregnant before the age of 20?
One out of every three women is raped in her lifetime. So is one out of every six men.
You know what the government wants to do with that money? They want to burn it. This is what they want to do with your $1,112 every month.
Which of the openings you just watched grabbed your attention the most. As you can tell from that montage, there are a lot of different strategies you can use to grab the audience's attention in your introduction. I'm going to review for you nine different techniques that you can use in your introduction to get the audience's attention.
Now, a technique that I often use is I open with a quote. I give lots of talks on family communication, and I'll often begin with a quote by Tolstoy. And the quote is, "Tolstoy has written `All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' That was written over 100 years ago. We don't know if it was true then, but we know it's certainly not true now." And then I go on to talk about how unhappy families share many characteristics in common. Now, you can find quotes quite easily. There are entire books of quotes. You can go on the web, and there are websites that have quotes that are historical and current as well. You just want to make sure that your quote is brief, that it's relative to your topic, that it's kind of intriguing, and it leads to your first point quite clearly.
Now, another strategy you might use is the startling fact. So, for example, you might say, "Since 1990 the country that has put to death the most juvenile offenders in the entire world is the United States of America." Or you might say something like, "Are you aware that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages?" A startling fact can be really useful in focusing the audience on the topic and getting their attention and really having them focus on you and orient to your topic quite clearly. It's just a great way to start a speech.
If you don't like either one of those, you can also begin with a question. This is very common. If you'll watch political speeches or speeches in your classroom, you'll see that a number of people will begin their speeches with questions.
How do you all want to spend your retirement? Do you want to spend your retirement clipping coupons, you know, finding the sales at the stores, or do you want to spend your retirement on a sailboat going around the world. I'd imagine most of you want to take a sailboat. So you ask me, "What's the difference? How do I get retirement on a sailboat? How do I get it clipping coupons?" The difference is privatization in Social Security.
There are two types of questions: there's the rhetorical question and the direct question. With the rhetorical question, you don't expect the audience to answer at all. You simply want to stimulate them to think. You might ask something like, "Hmm, do you want to die before your time?" or "Do you spend too much time worrying?" Now, clearly you don't want them to jump up and say, "Yes, I do, I do." Rather, you want them to start thinking about your topic.
On the other hand, when you ask the direct question, you do expect the audience to respond. So if you ask them, "How many of you work part-time?" or "How many of you read the newspaper before you came here today," you'd expect them to answer. Now, the problem is many audience members may not realize that you expect them to answer, so you may have to cue them, either by saying, "Please raise your hand if you work part-time" or pausing and looking at them until they answer.
Now, there are a couple of cautions about how you ask questions. First of all, you want to avoid the embarrassing question. You don't want to say, "How many of you have cheated on your taxes?" No one's going to answer, for one thing, and you don't want the audience to think that you think they're a bunch of cheaters. You also don't want to answer your question before you've even asked it. I once had a student give a speech, and when he stood up to give a speech he had on a baseball uniform. And then he said, "What sport do you think is the most popular in the United States?" Well, quite clearly the answer was baseball. And finally, you want to consider the usefulness of the question: Is it really relevant to your topic, and does it really capture the audience's attention?
There are other strategies as well. Kind of a popular one is to make a reference to some current event.
April 20, 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed Columbine High School shooting four guns. They killed 12 classmates, including one teacher, and then they killed themselves. They also wounded 23 others in the most gruesome school shooting in U.S. History.
So if you're giving a speech you might reference some political event, some TV show, some book that's being read. For example, if you talk about airline safety, you might reference the most recent airline crash. Not that long ago I heard a professor of recreation give a speech on why students should major in recreation, and he referenced the popular TV show Survivor. And he said, "If you want to be a survivor and be the last one standing on Survivor Island, you should become a recreation major." So it's very helpful just to think of something that's happened recently and connect it to your topic.
Another technique you can use to grab the audience's attention is to tell a story.
When I was a little kid, my mother used to say that I was too friendly. I would walk up to random people and hold conversations and introduce myself at age 3. Needless to say, I got in a lot of trouble.
You can tell an anecdote about others or about yourself. I frequently tell anecdotes about myself and my family. Let me give you an example. About a year ago, the undergraduate students on my campus selected me to give the last lecture, and I decided that my last lecture would be about the importance of passion in one's personal and professional life. And when I was talking about the passion I always had for being a teacher, I told this story: When I was a little girl I wanted to be a teacher more than anything. My very favorite game was playing school, and every time my mother would go to the grocery store I'd say, "Oh, would you please bring me home a Big Chief tablet and a pencil?" Now, by telling this story I did a couple of things. I set up my topic, which is that I've always wanted to be a teacher; I sort of revealed something about myself; and potentially I caused there to be a connection between you and me. Now, you may not have wanted to be a teacher, but perhaps when you were little you wanted very desperately to be something else. Through telling stories we connect to the audience and connect to our topic. Stories are a wonderful way to begin a speech.
There are other ways as well. You can also do a demonstration. If you want to do something nonverbal rather than verbal, you can demonstrate something during your speech. I have a wonderful example of this. I had a student once who came up to give her speech, and she got up in front of the classroom, and she was dressed in layer after layer of clothes. When she stood up there we were all looking at her thinking, "What is she going to talk about?" As she began to talk about her speech, she explained that she had lost 50 pounds over the past year. And she took off layer after layer of clothes as she told the story and revealed that each layer of clothes represented a size that she had gone down over the past year. She used this as a way of demonstrating the effectiveness of her weight-loss program. It was very effective in grabbing our attention and making it clear that this program worked.
Now, when you do use a demonstration, you want to make sure you don't do anything that's too distracting or overwhelming. I once had a student pull out a blank gun and shoot it. Well, that got my attention, I can assure you, but it was incredibly distracting. I was worried about would somebody come running in to arrest us, was anyone hurt, was he going to do it again. I was so distracted I really couldn't focus on his speech. So you want to avoid any demonstrations that overwhelm or distract the audience.
Another technique you might use is to refer to some sort of literary material. It can be a character; it can be a book. You might quote a poem, if it's very brief. You could, for example, if you're talking to some private investigators you might reference Sherlock Holmes. If you're talking about the resurgence in children's literature, you might reference the Harry Potter books which are so popular.
Now, this next strategy is one that is extremely popular, and you'll see many examples of it in your classroom, on TV, anywhere people are speaking. And that is using humor. You can make your audience laugh by using a humorous introduction. Now, this causes the audience to feel alert and relaxed and generates positive feelings towards you. I recently gave a talk for a group of architects, and I used a small humorous story. They knew that I had been on vacation and that I had left my vacation to come talk to them, and so I told them this. I said, "You know, usually people don't like to leave their vacations to come to work; however, I'm the exception. I just spent the last four days nursing my husband after surgery, and I can assure you I was thrilled to have the opportunity to drive here two hours to talk to you today." Now, if you're going to use humor, there are a couple of things you want to be careful about. You want to make sure that your humorous story leads to your first point pretty smoothly, you don't want to use humor that offends, and you don't want to use humor that undermines your credibility.
Now, the final strategy you might use is to create suspense. You can do this verbally or nonverbally. For example, if you're doing it verbally you might say, "Are you engaging in the three most common behaviors that are sure to doom your relationship?" By saying that you create suspense, and the audience becomes curious, and they're going to be listening for those three behaviors to make sure they are not using them. So you can do it verbally, or you might do it nonverbally by showing an object that's unfamiliar and asking the audience to guess what it is. Something like this. Can you figure out what this is? Let me show you. And as you can see, it's a music stand.
Preparing the Speech ! Introductions [page 2 of 5]
Types of Attention Getters
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 82301/31/02
Preparing the Speech ! Introductions [page 1 of 5]
Types of Attention Getters
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 82301/31/02

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