Telling it like it is – 10 tips for involving an audience

Hearts and MindsThe difference between an average presenter and a great one is the ease which the speaker engages the audience. Great speakers engage people’s hearts as well as their minds. They involve everyone in the presentation. They talk with them, not at them. Content (“just the facts”) is less than 5% percent of what people remember about a speech. How you look and what you sound like are the other 95%. Use these 10 tips to involve everyone in the room as active participants in your program. They’ll remember you for it.

  1. Engage the audience’s emotions. The best way to engage an audience is to tap into their emotions. Don’t just present dry facts. Involve them emotionally. One way to do this is tell a story in an interactive fashion. Help people see themselves as the hero of the story. Turn the ‘I’ in your story into the ‘we’. Use metaphors and analogies to help explain new concepts. Analogies are best taken from common experiences that everyone shares.
  2. Get physical. People can only sit in place for so long. If your presentation lasts more than 45 minutes plan ways to move people around. Do a pop quiz where you ask everyone in the room to stand and then sit down as they respond to questions.
  3. Make the speech compelling. Exhibit empathy with the pain the audience is feeling. Align your personal interests with those of the audience. Make every sentence count – eliminate fluff. Deliver your speech with passion and focus. Use evocative words that engage each of the five senses.
  4. Be aware of different learning styles. Adults acquire knowledge in different ways. Every audience will include a wide range of ‘learning styles’. Visual learners will want to see your presentation and take a look at what you will reveal. They appreciate PowerPoint, graphics and handouts. Auditory learners hear what you tell them and decide if it resonates. They respond to stories and vocal variety. Kinesthetic learners grasp the foundation of your argument. Involve them in discussion and Q&A. Auditory Digital learners love to get a sense of your material and process the talk. Give them plenty of data, graphs and statistics. They need time to digest the information and a way to contact you after the program is over.
  5. Move beyond PowerPoint. Remember that your presentation is more than the set of slides. The slides should complement your outline, not visa-versa. Consider switching off the computer and using the whiteboard or flipcharts.
  6. Make eye contact. Before you begin speaking, take a moment to breathe. Then look at one person and connect with your eyes. Begin your speech talking directly to that person. After you finish a thought, pause and move on to the next person and repeat the process. This helps calm your nerves and connects with your audience one person at a time.
  7. Avoid reading a verbatim script. Reading a script sounds stilted and distances you from people. Free yourself from having to use extensive written notes. Take your script outline and create abbreviated notes. Carry 3×5 cards onstage with large-font key words to jog your memory.
  8. Listen to the audience. Communication is a two-way street. Your audience speaks to you all the time, whether with questions spoken aloud or their facial expressions and body language. It’s critical that you listen to them. Ask questions during your talk to confirm that what you are saying connects with what they are hearing. Use body language to react physically to the audience. Don’t just speak from the neck up.
  9. Challenge the audience. Audiences love controversy. Always be controversial around issues — never around personalities. Challenge conventional wisdom. Point out a glaring inconsistency in received wisdom. Offer a clean, easily-understood solution to a complex problem.
  10. Use humor. But never tell jokes. Self-depreciating humor works best. The audience who smiles with you is more sympathetic to your argument. Make sure that you connect humor to the point you are making. Keep it short and sweet, not long and drawn-out. Avoid saying, “This is a funny” before you speak. Avoid offensive and off-color humor.

Speakers who follow these tips will present with an authenticity and energy that the audience will feel and respond to. Speaking honestly in a manner that involves the audience minimizes separation between the person on the podium and the listeners. We can ‘tell it like it is’ so members of the audience move beyond where they were before we showed up.

7 Comments so far
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Great points! I love # 8- I find that many speakers ‘keep’ the presentation to themselves and often don’t even realize the audience’s non-verbal speech. Listening to your audience is so very important in assessing whether you’re making an impact and your point is getting across. thanks!

Thanks to the Gilbert, AZ Toastmasters for reposting this article in their blog.

Great list. I especially like #6 – make eye contact. There is a great example of this – Freddy Mercury singing Radio Ga-Ga during the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. I analyze his brilliant use of eye-contact on my new speaking blog –

I like this blog post very much and I have come back to it many times. Each and every tip in this article is worth its weight… Rgds Vince

“Listen to the audience” is great advice.

So many speakers ask the audience a question and don’t wait for a reply.
Listening for a response and replying to it makes for great audience rapport.

Also like the “deliver your speech with passion and focus”.

Thanks for a great list of ideas.

Great suggestions, Ian. I’d like to add a comment to Point #7:

DO NOT read off the PowerPoint slides! Boy, that’s annoying. The slide is used like your script: You glance at it to grab the point, then look at the audience and state the paragraph or two of thought triggered by that phrase on the screen.

Thanks for publishing these important reminders.

Great post! I would like to add that giving the audience additional value can go a long way. This is a two way street, audience also wants to engage and learn even after the speaking engagement is over.

Thank you for sharing the tips.

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