• Michael Cundall Jr.

Say Stuff a Little Differently

One of the hardest things any teacher, speaker or presenter has to do is keep their audience engaged. We well know and have all experienced losing focus. Sustained attention is just difficult. Even in classes where I wanted to be there, that I really wanted to learn, I still lost my focus at times. Hopefully I haven't bored you already. But that last sentence is a bit off the mark. I may have bored you (no really, I am way too interesting for that to be true), but the truth is, every five to ten minutes people lose focus. So if you're trying to get a message across in a training session, in a classroom, like I often do, or in speech or address, it's best to regularly place attention grabbers in your presentation.

There are any number of ways to grab folks attention. Drop a seemingly irrelevant picture into the blog post. It was an attempt at playing on the "clever girl" line from Jurassic Park. Did it work? Did you stop and think a bit? If you did, that's good for me. You'll have to tell me whether it worked or not. Other examples I have come from my role as a teacher. As you may know, I teach philosophy and the resounding, repeated, and somewhat accurate complaint is that philosophy is boring and the readings too long and too ponderous. There's little I can do to change that so I try to use wit to keep students engaged. I work at an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) and I am not black. So often when my color comes up, I say that I am "melanin" challenged. The students have to work on that for a moment, but only a few, and they usually chuckle or give me a wry smile. Regardless, that different way of saying "I'm white" makes their minds work just a little bit to decode what I said. That feeling of figuring it out and the recognition that I was using wit is motivating. Sometimes, when talking about student success, I tell folks that they are more than willing to have a look at my undergraduate transcripts. One of the first things they'd notice is that the first two years of grades "don't have a lot of vowels in them." This one takes a bit longer to process, but people figure it out and as a result I usually gets real laughs and wider smiles. Being witty also has the added benefit of telling them that grades aren't the end all and be all. But in any case, they're back into a heightened attentive state.


Finding clever or witty ways to make the same statement will do wonders to help keep your audience engaged. It also has the benefit of making you feel better when one of your "jokes" lands well. No matter how many times I use that line about grades, it rarely fails and I enjoy watching the reaction. Engagement works in two ways. And and engaged presenter is more likely to move the audience.


Here are some tips on places where witty rewording will work. Is the idea or phrase something you say often, or repeat in a talk? If so, try to find a way to add some wit. Is there a place where people typically zone out that is content rather than time related? Go for clever. Find ways, every seven to ten minutes, to add a witty phrase. Mind this one. If you are robotic about it, the wit will lose force. Try and be sensitive to your audience, and that comes with time and practice. People aren't born with silver tongues, they develop them. Have you any clever ways you say the same old things? Witty ways that you talk with folks? If you do, I'd love to hear them. Please leave some comments, or send me an email.


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