The Tipping Point

This was the start of a nightmare. A painstaking presentation was taking place. I was trying everything known to man to stay awake. For 5 minutes I scrolled through my blackberry looking for distractions. When that proved to be futile I began thumbing through my notebook looking for an interesting story or factoid. In a last ditch effort to show respect and stay awake I vigorously rubbed my eyes. This didn’t work either. With each stroke I moved closer and closer to unconsciousness.

My search for a jolt of life was failing miserably. There were no signs that the presentation was ending. After 10 minutes of fighting I succumbed to the twin towers of boredom and sleep. Just as my face grazed the surface the speaker brought his presentation to a close. Applause from my fellow audience members brought me back to life. Relieved, I stood up and quickly left the room.

Boredom is rampant in the public speaking world. Look around you at your next conference or meeting. You’re bound to see people fighting sleep, playing with their phone, or drawing in a notebook.

As a communicator you don’t have to be boring (it may seem like a rule but trust me it is not). Grabbing the audience’s attention as soon as possible will ensure that you are not boring.

Once you reach the Tipping Point the audience is fully engaged for the duration of your speech. That is why this concept is so important. Reaching this point as soon as possible should be your goal in each presentation.

If you understand the concept of the Tipping Point in public speaking you can use it to maximize your effectiveness. In public speaking the Tipping Point is defined as:
“the point in which you gain the audience’s attention and they begin actively absorbing your information”

There are 2 key takeaways from this definition:

Gaining the audience’s attention
Active absorption of your information

Gaining the Audience’s Attention
To take full advantage of the Tipping Point you need to gain the audience’s attention quickly. An ear catching introduction is the best tool in this scenario. Since most people use normal speaking patterns this is not a difficult thing to do.

Here are some of my favorite tactics for gaining audience attention:

Start with a thought provoking question (How many of you have heard of ……?)
Quote an uncommon statistic
Engage a respected audience member in conversation (CEO, VP, President, Leader, etc)
Make a definitive ear catching statement (this was the start of a nightmare).

Certain extreme cases (eulogies, statistical deep dives, fact only information exchanges etc) may not seem like the place for one of these openings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dry scenarios like these need some spice to keep people engaged and following the message.

Active Information Absorption

When an audience is actively involved in your presentation you will know. There really is no mistaking it. People take notes, ask questions, and focus all their attention on you when they are actively involved.

When you see this you will know that you have reached the tipping point. It is nearly impossible to negate the effects of the Tipping Point once you have reached it in a speech. You have to make a colossal mistake, and we both know you won’t do that.


The war on boredom in public speaking is an ongoing struggle. Many people fight for the rights of boring speeches. Don’t be one of them.

A bored audience is much less likely to absorb information than an involved one. Do your part in fighting boredom by getting to the Tipping Point with your audience as soon as possible.

Prove your merit at the beginning of your speech and ears will open immediately. When they do, use what you know about the tipping point to keep them engaged and informed until you are done.

Marcus Antuan Smith is a creative force in the public speaking world who strives to meet the needs of each and every client. His experience as the Toastmasters President at a fortune 15 company will prove invaluable to you.