How many times have you had the displeasure of sitting through a boring, dry, and banal presentation? The kind where the speaker went up there and just droned on and on in a seemingly endless monotone until his voice became background noise as your eyelids got heavier and heavier? That’s what happens when you fail to engage your audience.
Unless you’ve been exceptionally lucky, you’ve probably had to endure more than your fair share of such presentations. And while my description above might have been a little hyperbolic, the fact of the matter is that most presenters simply don’t engage their audience. They speak at them instead of speaking to them.
Public speakers know that one of the worst things that can happen, short of being jeered and booed, is seeing glassy eyed and disinterested expressions on their audience’s faces. It might even be worse than getting jeered and booed, at least then you know they’re listening!
8 Methods to Effectively Engage Your Audience
When you fail to engage your audience, you might as well be speaking to an empty room. Don’t let that happen to you. Check out the following tips to ensure that the next time you present, their attention will be fixed on you the whole time.
#1: Give Them the Takeaway Upfront
If your introduction is weak, you are immediately starting out behind. You need a strong introduction to hook the audience. And one of the best ways to do so is to tell them upfront how they will benefit from listening to you.
Remember, people are self-absorbed creatures. They don’t care about you; all they want to know is how listening to you can benefit them. So don’t ramble on and on, give it to them straight; what are the exact takeaways and benefits of your talk?
Have you heard of the primacy and recency effect? It’s a psychological phenomenon which demonstrates that the parts of a speech people remember most are the opening and closing. So make sure your main takeaways are included in the opening (and repeat them in the closing of course).
I’m not saying that you have to mechanically state the takeaways within the first couple of sentences of your presentation. Sometimes yes, but not always. Just make sure you do it before you launch into the body of your presentation.
#2: Keep the Takeaways to Three or Fewer
The Rule of Three. Keep the number of takeaways or main points in your presentation to three or fewer. Going over three main points risks your audience forgetting them as you move along in the presentation. And if your audience starts to forget your main points, they might start to lose track of the whole thing. The result? Reduced engagement levels and an overall less impactful and effective presentation.
So don’t go overboard with the information and remember that it’s all about what your audience can remember, not how much you know.
#3: Make It Visual
We are all visual creatures and we engage better the more of our senses are utilized. Adding visuals to your presentation, whether it is diagrams, infographics, or pictures will keep the audience’s attention focused and engaged.
However, don’t let your visuals overwhelm your presentation, they should be a complement, not a distraction. Don’t add visuals for the sake of spectacle; make sure each visual serves a real purpose within the context of your presentation.
#4: Poll Your Audience
The more interactive your presentation, the more engaged your audience will be. One way to do that is to take a simple poll from your audience. Questions like “How many of you here have experienced X?” or “Show me on your fingers how many times you’ve done X” make your presentation more interactive and engaging.
Here’s a tip, they don’t even have to be ‘real’ information-seeking questions, they can be rhetorical questions for the sole purpose of spicing up your presentation. Don’t feel embarrassed about using rhetorical questions, as long as you don’t overdo it. You can even call it out right after by saying “That was a rhetorical question”.
#5: Share Extreme Moments or Novel Statistics
Sharing extreme moments or novel statistics can immediately hook your audience. A common novel statistic you might have heard is that if you (in theory) fold a piece of paper 42 times it will create a tower that reaches the moon. The main point of this novel statistic was to show the power of exponential growth, but you can bet it’s far more effective than just showing a graph!
Extreme moments can also put your audience right into the thick of your story. Scott Dinsmore gave a TED talk about finding work you love. But his talk also includes an anecdote of how during an open water swim in the San Francisco bay, he thought a child was drowning. Turns out that the child was not drowning; he was physically disabled, and yet completed the swim anyway. Scott wanted to show the power of perseverance; and his extreme anecdote did the job.
#6: Show Vulnerability
Many people are afraid to demonstrate their true and authentic self, fearing negative judgment and criticism. But vulnerability, which is inherent in all of us, is what enables us to really connect with each other. Research has shown that vulnerability is the key component in sustaining a long term relationship.
I’m not suggesting that you treat your audience like your significant other; that would be completely ridiculous. You don’t have to expose all your inner fears and desires to them. But recognize the importance of vulnerability in connecting with each other, long term relationship or not.
So humanize yourself and open up. Show a little bit of who you are as a person to your audience. It can be something as simple as a moving story from your childhood to a recent business failure and what you learned from it.
There’s no set rule of what you have to share, but sharing something about what makes you a person is key for getting your audience interested in you. And when they’re interested in you, they’re also interested in what you have to say.
#7: Be Passionate
Carmine Gallo is the author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. She emphasizes that passion is one of the most important parts of any good storytelling. She shares scientific research which shows how passion is contagious and passionate speakers “stand a greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic.”
Don’t worry if you haven’t yet discovered your passion, it might not be as obvious as you think. Gallo shares the example of Aimee Mullins a double amputee and Paralympics world record holder in running. Her TED talk might on the surface look to be about prosthetics and how society views people with disabilities, but look deeper and you’ll see that her true passion is about unleashing human potential.
#8: Have a Conversation
Which scenario would you be more engaged in; listening to a speech or talking with your best friend? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Giving a speech that appears as natural as normal conversation takes relentless practice. But if you can master this skill, you can engage your audience almost as if you are having a personal conversation with each one of them.
When practicing, pay attention to your verbal delivery (rate, volume, pitch, and pauses), effective gestures, and body language. Remember, it takes lots of practice to appear natural, so don’t sweat it if you’re not there yet. You’ll get there if you put in the work.