May 15, 2008

Paying Attention

When I'm interested in something, I focus--like miss obvious things going on around me kind of focus. This led me (in college, I think) to discover a nifty little trick.

The next time your in a mid-sized audience, say 15 to 100 people, for a speaker, try something. Pay attention. I mean close attention. Ignore your friends, watch the speaker, and try to anticipate what they'll say next.

Assuming your friends aren't trying the same thing, you'll notice something after about 10 minutes. The speaker, unless blinded by stage lights or very, very professional, will be talking to you. They'll spend 40-60% of their time looking directly at you. They'll wait for you to nod slightly at important points or smile at jokes. They'll drift slightly toward you if you're off to one side. They won't lose their topics, but they may lose the rest of their audience.

Works for almost anyone but professional storytellers, whose audience contact is part of how they tell the story. Works for professors, for introverts, for high corporate mucky mucks. I've even moderated a panel discussion at a convention from the audience this way. Their moderator wasn't doing much, I asked a couple of questions and listened to the answers, et voila. Pretty soon everyone on the panel was waiting for me to look at them before they spoke. Very strange, but kind of cool.

One word of caution: listening this way in a one-on-one situation can have a very different outcome. You may end up with a new best friend who has to tell you all their troubles (because you're so understanding), or someone may feel the need to tell you, nervously, that they're just not interested. So be careful where you practice.

7 comments:

Sean M. Murphy said...

Ah... social domination can be so much fun.

And yes, being careful when--and to whom--you do this is such a good idea...

Stephanie Zvan said...

But really, if I can get enough other people to do this, then I can go back to being absorbed and ignored. It is, ironically, kind of distracting when it happens.

Sean M. Murphy said...

So... what you really want is other people to carry the weight of being the speaker's target, so you can chameleon into the crowd but still listen intently... okay, understood.

Like rabbits running pell-mell to create a distraction, only with people and staring eyes.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Bingo.

Best part: what speaker do you know who wouldn't be thrilled by the arrangement?

Sean M. Murphy said...

Hmmm.... good point. Though I can see a moderately shy speaker getting completely derailed by the unexpected attention...

Becca said...

This is such an amusing post. I'm not the only one who does this!!

If you want a true social domination challenge, try doing this in a Toastmaster's meeting- it's much more difficult.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hey, Becca. No, you're not the only one, although I suspect there aren't many of us. Toastmasters sounds like an interesting challenge, but it would require going to Toastmasters. (I warned you about the snark, right?)