After testing hundreds of methods to recall the audience’s attention, the best and most respectful way I’ve found is to do the following:
1) Set up in advance the amount of time that you expect for the audience to be in discussion or exercise. “You have three minutes. Go!”
2) For longer exercises, ask, “Who needs another minute?” This gives them a warning to wrap it up. (Thank you Sarah Victory for that one.)
3) Bring the exercise to a close with, “Please end your conversation in ten seconds.” Hold the esses because that sibilance will cut through the noise.
4) Count slowly to 10 and say, “Thank you!” Ninety percent of the time, the audience will be quite and attentive.
5) For the 10% of the time when they aren’t, say “The question is…” holding on to the sibilance and repeating until you have their attention.
At a meeting of 600 rowdy sales managers, I used this method to bring them back to attention. It was so effective the VP jumped on stage, grabbed my mic and said, “Why won’t you quiet down like that for me?”
The reason why this works so well is psychology. Adults must complete their thought before being able to shift their attention. Giving them 10 seconds lets them do that. Cutting them off before with other techniques used in school or Scouts treats them like a child (who also wants to complete their thought) and is disrespectful of their thought process.