Putting on the Breaks

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

Use the natural breaking points before, during, and after your speech to connect with your audience.  Here are some crowd control and relationship-building techniques to use on breaks:

  1. Your presentation begins before you speak and continues after you’re finished.  Mingle for a few minutes before you’re introduced and meet your audience.  When you present, you’ll key in on familiar faces, rather than complete strangers. 
  2. Take a break every 60 minutes if the audience is seated theatre style; every 75 minutes for classroom style; and never go more than 90 minutes without a break.  “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”  Adults’ attention spans wane as their bodies (and bladders) tire.
  3. Start on time after breaks.  If you start speaking five minutes after you told the audience to return from a break in your training program, you are training them to return five minutes late.  Do not punish the people who honored you by returning on time. 
  4. Display a timer with the exact countdown, so there aren’t questions about the “actual” time.  Instead of telling people to return at a certain time, tell them the length of the break (all watches are set differently).  “Look at your watch and please return in exactly seventeen minutes” (an odd number is memorable). 
  5. When you first arrive, appoint the most outgoing person in the room as your timekeeper, who helps you round up the crowd toward the end of the break.
  6. When attendees return from break, get them started on a brainteaser, a discussion, or an activity.  Or raffle a prize at the end of the break; the winner must be present to win.  Latecomers who win but aren’t in the room are teased incessantly by the group, and it makes other members return on time, every time.
  7. Another fun technique is to tell the first half of a great joke or story before break, promising the punch line or ending after the break.
  8. Don’t rush out immediately afterward.  Stick around to chat and answer questions people weren’t comfortable asking in the larger group.

© 2010 Laura Stack. Laura Stack has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years in the field of personal productivity and is the bestselling author of several books, including SUPERCOMPETENT.  Laura is the 2011-2012 President of the National Speakers Association (NSA).  She has been awarded the Certified Speaking Professional (or CSP), the highest earned designation for speakers. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces.  Her productivity-improvement programs have been used worldwide at companies such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, and Bank of America.  Laura has been a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, Xerox, and Office Depot, and she is the creator of The Productivity Pro® planner by Day-Timer.  To have Laura speak at your next event, visit For more information on NSA, go to

This article originally appeared in training magazine. The original article can be viewed here.

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