When I’m interested in something, I focus–like miss obvious things going on around me kind of focus. This led me (in college, I think) to discover a nifty little trick.
The next time your in a mid-sized audience, say 15 to 100 people, for a speaker, try something. Pay attention. I mean close attention. Ignore your friends, watch the speaker, and try to anticipate what they’ll say next.
Assuming your friends aren’t trying the same thing, you’ll notice something after about 10 minutes. The speaker, unless blinded by stage lights or very, very professional, will be talking to you. They’ll spend 40-60% of their time looking directly at you. They’ll wait for you to nod slightly at important points or smile at jokes. They’ll drift slightly toward you if you’re off to one side. They won’t lose their topics, but they may lose the rest of their audience.
Works for almost anyone but professional storytellers, whose audience contact is part of how they tell the story. Works for professors, for introverts, for high corporate mucky mucks. I’ve even moderated a panel discussion at a convention from the audience this way. Their moderator wasn’t doing much, I asked a couple of questions and listened to the answers, et voila. Pretty soon everyone on the panel was waiting for me to look at them before they spoke. Very strange, but kind of cool.
One word of caution: listening this way in a one-on-one situation can have a very different outcome. You may end up with a new best friend who has to tell you all their troubles (because you’re so understanding), or someone may feel the need to tell you, nervously, that they’re just not interested. So be careful where you practice.