Get Their Attention, THEN Start Your Speech – Your Speaking Tip for Today

juliuscaesarantony2Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
Mark Antony, in the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


One of my prized possessions is the book by William Safire, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in HistoryI read speeches – plenty of speeches.

But the title (and the quote from Mark Antony that is the source of the title) also gives great advice to every speaker.

Before any audience member actually listens to our speeches, they first have to “lend us” their ears.

And, I have frequently noticed this problem:  no matter how well-crafted a speaker’s “hook” may be, the first sentence of such a well-crafted “hook” is close to useless if the audience is not yet listening – not yet lending their ears.

Recently, I heard a speaker fail to gain the attention of her audience.  She had a good opening – but the audience was not yet listening.  A well written opening line, not listened to by the audience, is a waste of a good line!

So, here’s your speaking tip of the day.  When you speak, your actual first thoughts have to accomplish this goal:

“Hey, audience members, would you give me your attention – would you lend me your ears now? 
I’m about to start my speech, and I need you to listen to me starting with my “hook.”  
Are you ready to listen? 
Phones put away? 
Eyes pointed at me?
Nothing on your mind except what I am about to say? 
You sure? 
Ok – let’s begin.”

In the Navy, each ship announcement started with this phrase:

“Now hear this.”   

And, until recently, all written communication in the navy was written in ALL CAPS.  (NOW HEAR THIS: NAVY ABANDONS ALL CAPS:  Official Communications, Long Written Large, Can Use Mixed Case; No Shouting).  But, they changed that in April, 2013.  Now, ALL CAPS are only required in the “lines before remarks.”


ALL CAPS is the written version of “Lend me your ears.”

You may think I am overdoing this – but, I have seen too many speakers get well into their prepared speech before the audience “settles down” and begins to fully listen.

So, look carefully at this Navy tradition:

Now Hear This…

Now – right now, not later
Hear – start paying attention with your ears to what is about to be said
This – This message, the one about to commence, is the one to pay attention to

So…  whether you begin your speech with a call to listen, a good pause until you have the attention of your audience, or whatever other “trick” you find useful, this much is clear:  your audience is not listening until they lend you their ears.  And it is not worth wasting a well-crafted “hook” on inattentive ears.

Get their attention
Then, start your speech.


Begin your speech
Without yet gaining the attention of your audience.


I wrote about the idea of using a “Hook” at the end of this blog post:  Get to the Point! – Insight/Reminder from Joe McCormack, for all Speakers and Writers.

One thought on “Get Their Attention, THEN Start Your Speech – Your Speaking Tip for Today

  1. Could not agree more. I usually suggest, when coaching speakers, thinking about how to grab attention. You can use silence. Just stand there and say nothing for ages and then make a really bold statement e.g. “You are about to hear the best speech you have ever heard in your life. I know because I wrote it,” Long silence then, “Well OK maybe the second best”. That should have there attention. You can also be noisy, shout or sing maybe. Use your body. There are lots of different ways to get attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s