Position yourself in front of your group where they can see you.
Implement one or more of the following strategies:
– Raise your hand and instruct everyone who can see you to raise their hand too.
– Say “IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, CLAP ONCE” then clap once. Continue with “IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, CLAP THREE TIMES” and clap three times. Change the number of claps as you continue to gauge the level of your group’s attention.
– Clap in a pattern similar to the routine of Copy Claps.
Continue your chosen approach until you have successfully gained the attention of your group.
Use a variety of techniques throughout your program to heighten interest.
How To Play Narrative
Being heard or getting the attention of your group should not just be a matter of raising your voice. In fact, I strongly recommend that you rarely ever raise your voice.
It is entirely possible to be heard and have a voice left to use at the end of the day. This should be your goal. Refer to my advice in Leadership Tips to learn how to look after your voice.
In my opinion, if you can’t be heard or generally fight to get the attention of your group, you should consider a career change. It’s just too hard and too important to get this wrong. Or, if this is not an option, then I hope you find some solace in trying some of my favourite techniques.
Admittedly, some of these strategies are more appropriate for young people than adults, but all equally effective.
Raise Your Hand: Instruct your group to raise their hand when they see any hands raised. Most groups are already used to this technique so it may not need any advance framing. Like my old summer camp leader used to say “When the hand goes up, the mouth goes shut.”
Copy Cat 1: Say in your normal conversation voice, “IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, CLAP ONCE” to invite all those within earshot to follow suit (clap.) Then continue with “IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, CLAP THREE TIMES” (clap, clap, clap.) And so on, until the room gets the message. Change the number of claps as you progress to gauge the level of listeningness.
Copy Cat 2: Clap in a series of patterns. Take a look at Copy Cat to view a demonstration. This clapping strategy is similar to above, but this time, you just start clapping a particular beat or tune and repeat it several times.
Snap Your Fingers. Works a treat for all but the largest of groups, but your fingers may tire quickly.
Count Down: Announce out loud “FIIIIVE, FOOOUR, THREEEE…” If you have them trained, by the time you get to three, most of the group will be with you.
Share A Secret: Stand up and talk very softly. Very soon, a wave of recognition will flow through the group that says, “SSHHHHH…” Be sure that the initial things you say are nonsense, otherwise, it is likely some of the slower folks in your group may miss something important.
Simply Wait: When the time I’m wasting is not mine nor precious, I’ll happily stand silently and wait for my group to notice me. It can take a while but is the least costly in terms of energy. Do this often enough and the group soon learns to monitor its behaviour.
Check the Variations tab for more attention-getting tips and ideas.
What’s the weirdest stunt I’ve pulled to get my group’s attention, you may ask? Once, with a large corporate crowd, I struggled to get anyone to hear me – so I calmly lied prostrate on the floor. Took only 10 seconds. Hilarious.
Practical Leadership Tips
I ‘tips me hat’ to many years spent at residential summer camps, countless programs and tons of public-speaking gigs over the years for learning and being exposed to these attention-getting tips.
Imagine for a moment that your voice has a volume dial, ranging from 0 (silent) to 10 (maximum loudness.) Now consider that your average volume when speaking with someone in general conversation is a 3 or 4. Here’s the thing – commit to addressing your group at levels approximating 5 or 6 on most occasions, and if you ever have to raise or project your voice, do so at a comfortable 7 or 8 and no more. Save the 9 and 10 for the real emergencies – that’s what the voice at 9 or 10 was exclusively designed for. Constantly addressing a large group at 9 or 10 will do two things (a) you will quickly lose or damage your voice, and (b) your group will get used to you screaming at them and will gradually talk even louder to be heard over you! It’s a never-ending cycle.
I have found that the most effective volume to address my group is approx 5 or no more than 6. Once people get the idea that I am speaking, they quieten down, lean or shuffle in toward me, and then surprisingly, even the largest groups of up to 200 sets of ears can hear me.
The use of one or more of these Attention-Getting Tips makes sense in a well-designed SEL program because they empower groups to make constructive choices about their personal and social interactions.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to these tips and strategies other than they should, of course, be presented in a manner that is respectful of the needs and abilities of your group. That said, you could argue that many of these techniques honour the agency of your group and the benefits of exercising your own social & emotional intelligence.
However, if you are frequently needing to resort to these techniques to manage the behaviours of your group, I would strongly recommend investing some time and energy in establishing a set of full valuebehavioural norms.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Attention-Getting Tips could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Silent Applause: Sign language for applause in some hearing-impaired communities (eg Australia and the USA) is represented by raising and shaking your hands above your head. Much like raising your hand, instruct your group to mimic your actions as soon as they see your sign and watch the applause ripple through your group.
Cymbals: The high-pitched, resonating tinging of Tibetan Tingsha cymbals has been a very effective means to quickly gain many a group’s attention.
Silent Catch: Throw a ball in the air and catch it. Train your group in advance that when the ball is in the air, they can make as much noise as they like, and when the ball is caught, everyone must suddenly fall silent. You will need to repeat this several times to get the attention you desire. Have fun in the beginning when training with several fake throws and drops of the ball.
Refer to the Comments section below for more attention-getting ideas shared by other generous playmeo members.
For most virtual audiences, you will need to rely on visual cues to regain the attention of your group. Think to raise your hand, copy clapping and silent applause as the most useful strategies to adopt.
Presuming you are the host of your online meeting/classroom, you can generally control the audio and video sharing options of your audience. Use this technique sparingly, lest it becomes annoying.
Many video conferencing software programs install a timing device to assist groups (large and small) to prepare for something, eg to return their focus to the large group, the presenter or to move onto to something new.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I’m just guessing, but I predict that it won’t be long before I am going to struggle to regain your attention once we get started on this program. And that’s okay because I want you to enjoy every moment we have together here today. But, I don’t want to lose too much time trying to re-focus you either, so this is a simple strategy I’m going to use to keep us moving forward…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after using one or more of these attention-getting tips & activities:
How long do you think it took for me to regain your attention?
Why do you think I struggled to get your attention? What does this mean to you or to me?
What might this exercise be saying about our group?
How could your group manage and control its focus more effectively on its own?
The inspiration for many of these Attention-Getting Tips was sourced from the many years I have spent standing in front of groups feeling frustrated, and gratefully, learning from some of my more creative mentors. With thanks.