So silly of me. I thought about that last post, wrote it carefully, reread it, edited, posted and shared on various social networks, completely forgetting the MAIN way I get the audience's attention. Thanks to Margaret Meyers for pointing it out!
When I'm working with kids under age 10 and with family groups, I use puppets to get the audience's attention. In the beginning of the show, often after pied pipering with my harmonica, I say, "I brought a friend with me today, in my bag. I usually travel with my friends in a bag. Don't you? You know, you say to your friend, "Hey, jump in this bag and I'll take you down to the library.' Right?" I reach in the puppet bag for Trixie.
Then Trixie and I have a little chat. I ask her if she remembers why we're here. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she thinks we're here for the big basketball game. Kids love correcting a puppet who is wrong. I remind Trix that we're here for stories and ask what she recommends.
Frequently, kids say Trixie is a witch. She does look like one, and I always acknowledge this when a child says it, but she's not. She's afraid of witches. Trixie is just old. She's 111 (hasn't aged a day since I picked her up in1994). She likes to rest during the stories, so she sits quietly next to me on the chair while I tell.
Trixie and the other puppets draw the attention of the audience and help me manage the energy in the room. If it's too wild, a quiet puppet will come out of the bag to calm everybody down. If it's subdued, one of the puppets will bring up the laughter. If a child is afraid of Trixie (her eyes can be extremely piercing), she does something silly like chew on her foot, or she'll get shy. Sometimes she goes back in the bag for a longer nap and another puppet comes out.
Here's the 2-minute puppet lesson, for when you're visible to the audience and you don't happen to be a ventriloquist.