Two opposite ways to grab attention

By Amy Beth Miller

No high school student ever fell asleep in Mr. Meister’s class. The reason was clear on the first day, as he outlined his class rules.

“If your head is resting on your desk,” he explained in a whisper, as he walked between the rows of desks, “I can’t tell whether you are asleep—or dead.”

He paused and then said in a normal volume, “How would that look in the newspaper? ‘Student Dies in Class and Teacher Doesn’t Realize It.’” We laughed.

Whispering again he continued. “So if your head is down, I MIGHT HAVE TO YELL TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE ALIVE.” We jumped in our seats at the sudden change from whisper to shout.

Of course, yelling at your audience members isn’t the only way to be sure they listen. Years later I saw a successful defense attorney apply the opposite technique.

When he was making an important point in the courtroom, that lawyer would lower his voice until it was barely audible. Jurors would lean forward so that they could hear, giving him their undivided attention.

The only consideration many speakers give to volume is during the sound check, to make sure audience members can hear them. However, if you want to captivate your audience, review your remarks for opportunities to add emphasis and energize your listeners by raising or lowering your voice.

After all, you don’t want to be wondering whether audience members are closing their eyes because they’re processing what you just said or dozing off because you’re boring them to death with your monotone speech.

How do you use volume effectively in your presentations?

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