How Do You Win Back a Distracted Audience?

Cool Under Fire© series, I of 5

This is first in a series of five leadership articles to help consultants keep cool under fire. San Francisco Speechwriter & Executive Speech Coach Marianne Fleischer, Fleischer Communications gives private speech coaching & workshops. She will also be the keynote speaker at Women in Consulting’s August 10th, South Bay General Meeting.


How Do You Win Back a Distracted Audience?

We’ve all been there. You’re giving a speech or taking Q&A –BUT peers are typing on their laptops or texting on their phones. Senior leaders whisper among themselves. Sometimes it’s worse: the audience emotionally blocks you. Millennials are famous for being multi-taskers. How does a speaker handle it when they’re distracted?As a speechwriter-speech coach, I offer 10 hard won tips.

Change your mindset:  Don’t get miffed. The trick is to interrupt their automatic guessing machine. They think they know what you will say—so they think they can listen with half an ear. Take charge. Disrupt their automatic guessing machines.

  1. Take a surprise poll. Ask for a show of hands –or– have them use their smartphones with a short poll you’ve pre-set up on,www.surveymonkey, or similar easy polling sites.
  2. Read the room–out loud. Call out the elephant in the room. Remember pushback usually has one of four reasons: No time. No money. No trust. No interest. Believe your gut and bravely call it out, with warm, gentle humor.
  3. Use candor or humor to remind them of the big picture. “Eyes on the prize, people.”
  4. Call on an ally. Pre-arrange to have an ally standing by. Better yet, have a leader ready to do a cameo. That will snap a distracted audience back into your orbit.
  5. Break news. Give breaking news. Think of your news as a traded currency. Offer something they want (more time, budget, insider intelligence, a coveted role, etc.) in exchange for their attention to your cause—or a seat at this table.
  6. Reveal a killer prop. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor (TED talk) is famous for having an assistant in the wings hand her a real brain, which she held in her hand while telling a story. At Genentech, I once dropped the 1,400-page HealthCare Reform bill on the table with a marvelous thundering thud. Have one killer prop up your sleeve per presentation.
  7. Use media: Show a video or play an audio clip. Do a live demo. Stream LIVE from the Internet.
  8. White Board: Walk fast to other side of room and suddenly write something provocative on the white board.
  9. Tell a killer anecdote, tailored to this audience.Always have two anecdotes ready to go.
  10. Shame them, but let them save face. If someone is talking, walk over and briefly stand inappropriately close to them, but do NOT–and this is key—do not acknowledge them as you talk. Pretty soon they will stop. Then you walk away as if it didn’t happen.

When an audience is distracted, when you have to keep cool under fire, try these Fleischer Communications techniques.' About Marianne Fleischer

San Francisco Speechwriter & Executive Speech Coach Marianne Fleischer, Fleischer Communications gives private speech coaching & workshops. Learn more at

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