Public Speaking: Engaging your Audience

by Ben Richardson
19th December 2019    5 Minutes

Speaking in front of an audience is not easy.

However, there is a good reason that people do it. It is a great way to present new information to large amounts of people and / or enthuse them about a new project or development.

But capturing the audience’s attention from start to finish isn’t easy. For your message to be understood it is important that they go away feeling good and can articulate the key points from it.

Engaging audiences while public speaking requires practice.

The first step is to deal with your nerves when speaking in public so that you can relax and be confident on stage. Most people manage this through a combination of public speaking training and practice to reinforce what they have been taught.

Structuring your content and making sure it is relevant for the audience is the next step. This is where you can have some fun with your delivery to get the audience interested and wanting to know more.

Why the First Few Minutes are So Important

If you don’t capture your audience’s attention fully within the first few minutes you will probably lose them before you get to make your key points. Once you have lost someone it is very difficult to re-engage them. This is why your first few minutes are so critical.

In your career, the opportunity to speak publicly is a mark that you are trusted and that your ideas are valued. This is your chance to make your mark on the audience too, not just on the person that choose you to make the speech.

In the first few minutes, they will decide if what you have to say is worth listening to.

Let’s look at a few ways you can engage your audience before you even step onto the platform.

  1. Have someone introduce you

In larger crowds, it can be hard to get everyone settled and ready to listen. Having some introduce you will ensure that your audience is settled before you step up onto the stage. You can also feed them to interesting ‘titbits’ to use when they introduce you so that the audience is already intrigued when you stand up.

This is a great article on making a good introduction speech.

  1. Have an impactful visual aid ready

Have you ever been in a seminar before and seen something of interest already on the stage before the speaker?

A bold statistic on a screen or a physical item that doesn’t yet have a connection to the content is compelling and makes the audience already want to know more.

  1. Use a hook

This can be a bold opening statement or a short joke relevant to the topic but the aim is to hook your audience as soon as possible.

Especially at the start focus on only sharing the most impactful and exciting points that you have. If you need to get into details then save them for later in the speech by which time hopefully you will have everyone fully engaged and concentrating.

Bring your stage presence

People warm up to charisma. Whenever you have to speak in public, let your presence shine on stage and try not to stay stuck behind a podium or microphone.

In the first few minutes, you want your audience to feel at ease. Showing that you are relaxed and confident is a good way to set your audience at ease. If you are tense they will naturally tense up as well.

Think about stand-up comedians and how they move around a stage to interact with their audience.

Use Storytelling to Engage your Audience

The purpose of public speaking is to communicate and engage people.

Listing off facts robotically is a quick way to disengage your audience and make them feel overloaded with information.

We all like to identify with the person who is speaking to us and we can do this through clever storytelling.

This is what makes public speaking most impactful, it should resonate with the audience to leave them feeling positive when they leave.

Whatever story you have to tell, be passionate and honest. Inject humour to make it relatable.

Show enthusiasm and confidence and make it a memorable experience for your listeners.

The best storytellers know how to work the stage. They use dialogue and impressions to make the audience feel like they were a part of the story and they aren’t afraid to show their weaknesses. This vulnerability is what makes the audience relate to them.

With practice, you can become a great storyteller and know just how to incorporate them into your speech.

Using Questions to Engage your Audience

Audience participation is a great way to engage your audience when public speaking.

If you have an opportunity to speak in front of an audience, you might get caught up in what you want to say and forget that they might want to ask you questions.

In fact, even if you have planned your material well and think you’ve covered everything, there will always be gaps people want filled in.

No one likes to be on stage and have someone throw their hand up every few minutes to ask a question. It can disrupt your flow and might be something you are about to talk about anyway.

The trick is to manage your audience and let them know that questions are welcome but at the right times.

  1. State your preference

If you want your audience to feel free to ask questions, let them know from the start. The same if you have a planned Q&A section at the end of your speech.

  1. Ask them questions

Audiences tend to be quiet until warmed up. Some people feel nervous asking questions, so interact with them by asking them for their opinions.

“Raise your hand if…?”  or “Has anyone ever…?” are great ways to involve your audience and encourage them to participate.

  1. Anticipate tough questions

There may be somebody who picks up on something controversial or daring and wants to know more. Be prepared to answer them but in a way that allows them to give their opinion.

It is not to start a heated debate but an interesting conversation that may answer multiple questions the rest of the audience was afraid to ask.

  1. Communicate clearly

Make sure that your delivery is clear and allows people time to digest what you are saying.

Speak clearly, speak slowly and manage your volume/tone to emphasise your key points.