The language we use doesn’t always get people’s full attention.
Listeners will often drift away, following their own train of thought, almost as though they’d mentally turned down the volume to pay more attention to their own musings.
But sometimes a word or a gesture will jolt them from their daydreaming and bring their full attention back to what we’re saying.
There are a number of ways we can get this happening with an audience. One of the easiest involves a word that’s such a common part of our language we rarely think about it.
The word is – ‘and’.
“And” is one of the most ambiguous words in the English language. It actually has about 15 different meanings. Think about them:
“Two and two is four – he stood up and fell over – there are jobs and jobs – he’s got dogs and cats – call and see if he’s home yet – tell one more joke and I’ll scream – the sauce is good and thick – he tried and he succeeded – pay the man and go through that door – and then it happened – they came and stayed – try and see it my way”, and so on.
So how can you use this word to really capture an audience’s attention?
If there’s a moment in your speech or presentation (or even just in conversation) where you want to emphasise a point, and make sure you have your listeners’ full attention, here’s what to do.
Introduce your point with the word “and”. Lightly stress the word, and then follow it with a slight pause – as in, “We had a great year last year – and …we have to work even harder this year to make sure we keep up the momentum.”
You can be sure that the phrase which follows the ‘and’ will get their full attention – both consciously and unconsciously. And very often it doesn’t even need a logical connection with the preceding sentence.
How does it work? Simple. Because of the ambiguity of the ‘and’, your listeners can’t be sure of the context in which you’re using it. This puts them in a mild and temporary state of suspense while they wonder what’s going to come next.
And because you’ve now gained their more-or-less undivided attention, what follows is going to get an express ride into the unconscious mind
You can accentuate the ‘and’ even further by slightly shifting your posture, maybe leaning forward a little earnestly, or perhaps lifting your hand, or even just cocking your head forward.
Here are a few more examples:
“Our customers are receiving our new products well – and … there’s a lot more we can be doing to increase our market share.”
“We’re operating in a highly competitive environment – and … we’re going to have to make some cutbacks to ensure the healthy growth of our company.”
“Your sales efforts have been extraordinary this year – and … we know that you can perform even better.”
If you want to see the ‘and’ technique in action, take a look at any of Bill Clinton’s speeches. He’s a master at this.
In our presentation and conference speaker skills training, we usually have a lot of fun with this little device, having people vary the pitch and pacing of the word, as well as the accompanying gestures and posture shifts, and getting group feedback on how effectively it emphasises the sentence that follows.
And it’s so subtle you’ll hardly believe how powerful it can be – until you try it.
John Cliff. http://www.johncliff.com