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Get Their Attention and Keep It: 4 Steps

I am in the teaching business. When I’m doing strategic consulting, developing leaders, working with a management team, leading a class at the college or training some grad students how to build an effective team, I am teaching. In some ways, we are always teaching.

Because I communicate for a living, I tend to watch others when they teach, looking for ideas, gaining insights, observing teaching styles, evaluating delivery methods and learning more about my craft. While there are many things to teach young communicators (a group I work with on a consistent basis), I like to start with some basics that anyone can use to deliver an effective teaching session. I still use them.

Here they are – easy to remember and easy to you as a basic framework.

First: What do you want them to KNOW, to FEEL and to DO as a result of spending time listening to you? Get this real clear before you even structure your talk.

Second: Consider this simple 4-part structure that you can alter and vary later.


Ok, maybe a bit corny for some of you, but like I said, easy to remember.

HOOK: Get their attention!

In a world of information saturation and social media A.D.D., it is essential to get and KEEP someone’s attention.  Why should they listen to you and what will you help them learn? Of course you want to remove barriers and distractions as much as possible (avoid awkward gestures, make sure sounds systems are working before you speak, look in the mirror at EVERYTHING before you stand and deliver).

But get my attention. A story, anecdote, visual piece, challenging quote, or event a controversial opener. “You have heard it said, ‘Experience is the best teacher!’ but I am here to tell you that is a lie.” Link your opener to your key idea, theme or desired outcome. My big idea is that evaluated experience, not just “experience,” is the best teacher. You can do something poorly for 30 years.

BOOK: Get people into the text.

For many of you this is the Bible or some spiritual truth. For others it is some skill set you want to train people to do or some core material they must know for their job or role.

If it is not a lecture, get them involved in the content. Read in groups of 2-3 and generate questions, ask people to give their first reaction to the content, choose members of the audience to take turns reading, read slowly several times, and so on.

LOOK: Get the big teaching point(s) across.

This is NOT personal application—that comes next. This is the information or key ideas that apply broadly or come from the text, so we all know what we should be learning or thinking about.

A big idea might be, “Communication that is clear and simple is more memorable than a barrage of facts ideas that overwhelm the student.”

TOOK: Get the text into the people.

What is the “takeaway?” Work together to determine next steps, ideas for action, and suggestions for how to put the material into practice. The last thing you want is, “That was interesting!” or “Wow, she is smart!” as the only takeaway. You want action. You want people to DO something, to be able to make the teaching actionable. In sermons, forget the “Let’s trust that God will use this in our lives this week” kind of statement. That is just code for “I did not prepare well and have no idea how this might work in my live or yours.” Spend time with your people and you will have no problem with making it actionable.

You can provide some ideas for them to consider, but make sure you know the audience. The more homogenous the more likely you can suggest next steps they can all try. But if diverse in growth stages, ethnicity, experience and age, you must have lots of different ways to use the material or it may be better for them to group up and discuss ideas, then share with the whole class/group.  This is the problem with most Sunday morning preachers who tell us “what we all should do this week” when, in reality, there must be a broad range of applications.

I am working to become a better communicator. If you have any ideas, let me know! Let’s all get better at this – for EVERYONE’s sake!