How to Attract and Hold an Audience by J. Berg Esenwein

How to Attract and Hold an Audience by J. Berg Esenwein
How to Attract and Hold an Audience by J. Berg Esenwein | ©

How to Attract and Hold an Audience by J. Berg Esenwein is a public speaking self-help book that guides on how to keep your audience spellbound and fascinated. The expositions and explanations are designed to be plain and straight-forward, assisting the speaker in finding the way to the hearts of his audience. The wisdom and knowledge depicted therein are as applicable to our contemporary everyday life as it was decades ago. So, if your friends tend to outsmart you during debates, there are sections in the book that explain how you can tilt the narrative. You will undoubtedly attract and hold them when an argument erupts next.


In an audience, there are mainly two types of listeners: those that struggle to pay attention, and the one that cannot help it but listen to what you have to say. The public’s attention is the most valuable currency for any public speaker. As such, an audience with more of the second type of listeners is always more desirable.

J. Berg Esenwein wrote this book at a time when not so much information was shared about public speaking. Today, a simple search on the Internet reveals millions of results about public speaking and audience attraction. First published in 1904, How to Attract and Hold an Audience is a very comprehensive book that will guide you to successful public speech in which your audience actively responds to what you are saying.

The book’s spotlight

J. Berg Esenwein equips readers with what is required to navigate the public discourse. He understands how challenging it can be to attract and hold an audience. For that reason, he concentrates on the essential elements that characterize a successful public speaking exercise.

Esenwein’s book is suggestive, not exhaustive; practical, not theoretical; popular, not technical. Throughout the book, the author touches on key concepts that will help you get your audience’s attention. The tips explained are not ultimately guaranteed to work. Those should be taken as suggestions proven to be useful, especially after a successful practical implementation. Esenwein had the goal of capturing everything that a public speaker must know.

At the time of the writing, Esenwein had about 15 years of experience in public speaking. That experience gave him the confidence that he mastered the art of public speaking. As mentioned above, information about this area was not as widespread as it is today. One had to take a full-time course on public speaking to be well-equipped. Indeed, nowadays one can google most of the things that the author talks about in the book. However, his observations are based on more profound thoughts and personal experiences. Crafting each chapter must have taken him a considerable amount of time, given that he had to refer to real-life examples that readers can identify with.

Even as Esenwein encourages his readers to implement specific tips identified in the book, he still maintains that commonsense rules remain primordial. An excellent public speaker is someone who has an unmatched understanding of themselves and capable of providing an impressive performance by being original. If the book asks you to smile to an audience to get their attention, it is your commonsense that directs you to know when to laugh and when not to. Of course, some situations call for a smile while others need a serious face. You can even smile all through the public note delivery if that is appropriate.

Thought of every public discourse

How you think goes a long way to influence how you speak to your audience. If your thoughts follow a precise chronology, you are more likely to deliver a well-planned speech, one which the audience can easily follow. You do not want a state where people hiss amongst themselves as they try to figure out the connection between what you are saying.

All speakers must examine the thoughts of every public discourse. Esenwein explains that a detailed discussion on the thought instrument might involve a bit of science, particularly Logic. It is quite interesting to see the book talking about the aspect of science and public speaking. Is speaking in public art or science? Today, scholars appear to have reached a consensus that public speaking is an art. Back then, this was a hotly discussed topic, one which Esenwein deliberately chooses to mention in his book. The good thing is that he does not dwell on that but rather is interested in what would make you a proficient speaker.

Emotions, a major influential element in public speaking

Besides just thoughts, the author looks at emotions as a significant influential element in public speaking. The critical role played by emotions while delivering a speech to the public cannot be ignored. If you want to hold an audience, then you must know how to control your own emotions while playing with that of the listeners. As the author explains, thought can easily be clouded by emotions. A speaker who is capable of keeping emotions in control has what it takes to deliver a speech successfully. It is paramount that you harmonize your feelings with thoughts while speaking before an audience. Do that without restraining undue excitement to prevent a monotonous and dull presentation of your thought process.

Some consider emotions to be the surest way to resonate with your audience. Others argue that it can easily throw you out of the way. If you let emotions control you on stage, you might go off-topic and soon find yourself unable to relay the intended message. Remember that as much as you are struggling to get the audience’s attention, you should never forget the ultimate aim of a public speech – to convey a particular message. Of what benefit would it be to get the audience’s attention and still not meet the original goals of the speech?

The will

J. Berg Esenwein talks of “the will” as being another vital element in a public speech. The will plays the role of infusing some personality and convincing power to the message. Where there is no will, your thoughts will not have life, and your words will not excite as they should. The author argues that will has to be intertwined with thought and feeling so that the speaker masters his audience and not the other way around.

Different interpretation can be made when evaluating what J. Berg Esenwein mean by the term ‘will’. You might think it means the speaker has the desire to speak to his audience, or, consider the audience to be the one in possession with this desire. One thing remains constant: never let your audience control you.

Breaking down an argument

As an orator, you will often find yourself in a situation where you have to either accept the arguments of another speaker or refute them. There are no specific instructions that can tell you how to do this. In rare cases, the discussion will end up presenting the truth on its own. However, that does not happen all the time. You might need more aggressive measures for the fact to be seen.

The cases presented in this book are similar to the usual occurrences in our modern world. The author narrates how hard it is to convince hearers who are actively against your line of thought. Consider the case of the American political landscape and the very divisive topics of abortion and gun control. If you are in the camp that, for example, supports abortion and you have strong reasons for that, a speaker who talks against abortion will have a hard time winning you over. The same can be said for gun control. It all comes down to understanding your audience and evaluating whether a particular line of thought can hold for long.

An argument can be tackled from four different perspectives:

  • Meeting fact with fact to approve or disapprove the argument,
  • Offer an argument but then disregard the opposite view if your reasoning is strong enough,
  • Prove that no position apart from yours can hold,
  • Point out a fallacy in the opposing views.

With these tips at hand, you should be well-equipped to tackle any argument in a public speaking process. In most cases, it is advisable to use all four elements jointly. However, the one which carries the most weight is dependent on the subject under consideration. Read the book to have a clear understanding of each of these elements.


This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. The strengths of the arguments presented in the book suggest that the author was not in a hurry to get it done. Each topic is explained brilliantly and in a relaxed manner that even the average reader can understand. J. Berg Esenwein is indeed a renowned classic writer for these reasons.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.