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Captivate listeners with secrets from Apple

Photo courtesy of Apple Newsroom
Photo courtesy of Apple Newsroom

It's not always easy to keep people's attention for an extended period of time. It can feel like a hopeless goal without the superheroes and explosions of recent films. But by following successful examples, you can be on your way to increased engagement!


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Apple continues to set the standard of excellence on attention. They follow a formula started by Steve Jobs in a presentation that’s considered by many to be the best of all time.

You may not be launching a new technology on Sunday, but you can adapt practices from the tech giant’s style. With a few tweaks, you’ll be on your way to capturing your audience’s interest. Better yet, members may be more apt to recall points from sermons, lessons and church meetings.

Tell a story

Apple’s presenters stoke excitement through creative storytelling from start to finish. Think of your introduction as your pitch (or headline) to the audience.

Ho-hum beginnings are hard to overcome. Of the intro statements below, which would spark your interest?

  • This morning we’re going to be talking about Matthew 28:17.
    Have you ever had a mountaintop experience while still plagued by doubt?

  • Turn to page two of your financial statement.
    Today, we get to see how much ministry has been empowered by our giving.

While high production value isn’t the point, it never hurts to include a video introduction. Note how Apple focuses on people and outcomes, rarely the details of the product or specs. Focus on the needs of your listeners, rather than telling stories about a lesson’s theme, i.e. how this lesson supports their faith life.

Find a way to be fascinating or present in an exciting way. This can add oomph to even the least fascinating information.

Preview and review

Speakers at Apple events often lay out what’s to come in the presentation. Then they summarize key takeaways to reinforce these points.

Breaking up talks with previews, highlights and summaries gives a sense of progress. It helps listeners process, organize and later recall what they heard.

Let’s practice that! To get peak retention:

  1. Preview the topic to cover
  2. Emphasize critical points
    1. Previews are the map of the presentation
    2. Critical points are the stops along the way
  3. Summarize what was covered

Too much information at once overwhelms and kills listener attention. Simplify and focus on the most important points. Then, present them in a trackable and organized way.

Reset attention

Apple schedules a new speaker introducing a new facet of information after 10 minutes.

Thanks to the noisy and instantaneous digital world, people are prone to boredom. In fact, attention spans are reportedly shrinking each year. Leaders of congregations can recognize all too well the quick onset of glazed over eyes. It can be disheartening.

How does Apple prevent attention from waning? How do they get so many people to stay edge-of-the-seat interested for two+ hours? Most important, how can you have similar experiences at your church?

Apart from offering cool new devices, they lean on science.

Studies show that our attention generally decreases after 10 minutes. By alternating speakers or shifting talking points every 10 minutes, you can jar listeners into a new attention cycle.

Lets face it, changing speakers midway through your service may not be possible. Try moving to another part of the platform while speaking. Weave in a funny story or a creative illustration. Use the same techniques in lessons and meetings. These tactics may reset your listeners' attention clocks.

Focus on the most important

Apple’s presenters stick to the basics. This includes times when attention shifts to details of technical features. They always emphasize the human equation.

For example, Tim Cook, distilled an entire launch into an instantly tweetable summary. His phrasing, though short, popped with strong words and interest: “The new Apple Watch puts groundbreaking health, fitness and communication capabilities on the wrists of millions and millions of people.”

Try using similar focused, short soundbites with your listeners. This helps your most important point to stick in their minds. After all, that’s the whole point of communication. You transfer understandable and digestible information to make your points memorable and shareable.

Your communication success depends on how easy you make it for your audience to understand and apply the information. Mind this whether you're sharing a key insight from Judges or a pressing need for a committee meeting.

If you want to be captivating, you need to captivate. Adapting not-so-secret characteristics from successful presenters like Apple is always a smart strategy. Find what works for you and you'll keep the ears, eyes and minds of your listeners on topic.


Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: