Tag Archives: attention span

One more lesson from Bill Clinton. Reset the audience’s attention span.

President Clinton’s speech at the Convention was a master’s class in public speaking.  He demonstrated powerful ways to communicate. His pace was excellence. His eye contact superb. His voice modulated constantly to reinforce various points. He worked the podium like a magician. His knowledge of the speech impeccable. Why, it almost seemed like he was speaking extemporaneously (apparently much of the speech was off the cuff.  Remember, Clinton once gave a State of the Union speech without his prompter which crashed just as he stepped up to the podium in Congress).

One of the things the former President did so well was reset the audience’s attention.  We all are familiar with just how short an audience’s attention span can be. Some studies suggest 30 seconds is pushing it. Others give as much as 60 seconds of rapt attention before the participants in the audience go to their happy place.

How did Clinton do it? How did he keep peoples’ eyes and ears glued to his thousands (and thousands) of words?   He divided his address into a series of shorter presentations by topic.  That, by itself, is a smart thing to do but not breakthrough.  All good presenters chunk their speech into chapters.  But, at the beginning of each new chapter he would pause, bite his lower lip, look a bit more serious and tell the audience “Now you have to pay attention to this, because this is real important” or words to that effect, then he would deliver the next new chapter.  The most important part of a presentation is the opening.  He wrote a killer new opening for each new segment!

He would often payoff each new chapter with a story from his administration, or from Obama’s efforts, or from something said in the Republican convention, the week before.  His little throwaway line about Veep candidate Ryan “It takes brass to criticize the same thing you just proposed” is a good example.

And with each new admonishment that we needed to pay attention to the next section, I paid more attention to the next session.  I really listened, because he told me to.

It was a 50 minute speech but it moved very quickly because of the chapter device he used.  It also helped me remember his big points better because he warned me they were coming.  Of all of the political speeches I heard over those 2 weeks, I remember Clinton’s content the best and I remember his overwhelming sense of confidence and righteousness that he is on the side of the angels.

It was brilliant.