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Paradox of the Audience’s Wandering Mind


Sometimes I get in trouble with my family members because I’m a bit of a control freak.  It happened again this last weekend.  Nothing big.   Just enough that when it was all said and done, I felt badly that I’d fallen into the old habit again.  Then to top it off, I let my stubbornness and my pride keep me from admitting I was being too controlling and I didn’t enjoy the weekend as much as I could have.

If you were listening to these words, instead of reading them, what would be different?

If you were listening rather than reading, your mind might start to wander.  “What was it that Kelly did this weekend that ticked off her family?  How bad was it?  So, she’s a control freak…she’s probably like Aunt Shirley.  I still can’t believe what Aunt Shirley did last Thanksgiving… Oh wait, what was she saying?”

Isn’t that what we do sometimes?  We take a little mental detour when we’re left hanging for information.

As a presentation coach, I listen for gaps that can cause an audience to wander away from the speaker’s message.  I help my clients fill in the gaps or eliminate distractions that take away from the message.  But we can’t stop there.  There are times when we WANT our audiences’ minds to wander.

If we want our audience to internalize our message, we NEED them to take a mental detour.  The audience members NEED to personalize what they’re hearing.  They need to consider how our ideas apply to their lives.  If they don’t internalize, if they don’t make the message personal, then it won’t stick.  If the message doesn’t stick then behaviors don’t change, products don’t get sold, lives don’t get better.

So how do we do that?  How do we get people to take the right kinds of detours to internalize and personalize our message?  Here are three suggestions.

Tell Stories that Make Your Point

Have you ever been at a party and one person tells a story which reminds you of a story that happened to you?  And then when that person finishes telling his story, you tell the story you remembered?  And then someone else tells a story about the same kind of topic from her perspective.  It’s like stories have this “that-reminds-me-of-a-time” effect on us.

In a presentation, when you tell a story, the same thing occurs.  The story gets the brain synapses firing.  Our minds crave a connection to what is familiar to us and we start associating the facts of your story to similar circumstances in our lives.  Your storytelling is helping us make your story more personal and memorable to us.  Stories can take us down a path to relate to your emotions and your motivation to what matters to us.  Making this connection benefits us as presenters.

Ask Questions – Then Pause

Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been listening to a story and thought about something similar that happened to you?

Asking a question of your audience and then pausing while they think about their response is another way that we can get our audiences’ minds to wander in a good way.  We may make a point, but if we can tie the point to a question that the audience has to ponder for themselves, then we’ve come a long way in the proper use of the wandering mind.

Take a Moment

Sometimes we need to give the audience more than a pause.  That’s when we want to encourage our audience to take a minute and write down their answers to our thought provoking questions.  People are busy.  If they need time to connect our ideas with the impact on their lives, we should show the courage to shut up and let them write.  Never try to talk to them while they write.  Seriously establish the time you want to give them and let them write.  They’ll appreciate that you’ve given them time to let their minds wander without the impediment of trying to tune you out while they do it.


Sometimes the best things we’ve said for an audience member are words that we know we’ve never spoken.  The audience thinks the idea came from us.  But in actuality what has happened is our idea meets with that audience member’s internalized, personalized thought.  And the learning and insight came from that important combination.

We can never control what our audience thinks.  But sometimes, we may want to actually encourage their minds to wander.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Where did your mind wander off to while you were reading this post?  Do you have a better way to articulate this concept?  Please comment and let us know!





Irene - Thanks for the comment! Waiting to give them time to think is so important! And often so hard to do... where speaking to one or a thousand!

Irene Savarese
Irene Savarese

Hi Kelly, I was thinking about my own weekend and about therapy (amazing how much can happen in such a short time). My kids just got their drivers license last week - so controlling, you bet I am! In therapy you want to encourage internalizing, ask open questions and wait while they think. Great post Kelly.


Cherry - Thanks for the affirmation and the idea!

Cherry Woodburn
Cherry Woodburn

Excellent post. I'm a speaker and a workshop presenter so I know exactly what you mean. It was a good reminder to me of allowing those pauses and time to write. What I use to do (and maybe will again) is provide a two column handout that said: What she said...............................What I thought of. Again, thanks so much for a well-written post with helpful content.