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How to Be an Engaging Speaker and Keep Your Audience AWAKE

It’s not about you.

You can spend hours thinking about how you look, how you sound, your visuals, etc. but you’d be misusing your time. Your presentation isn’t about you; it’s about your audience.

Most presentation advice is about how to organize your presentation and aids, with very little consideration to the recipients of your message. Doing your homework on your audience should be top priority, above all else.

Understanding who your audience is and what value they can gain from your presentation will inform the rest of your preparation.

Instead of guessing at what they want to hear, ask them. Reach out to the organizer or whoever hired you for the speaking engagement and discuss possible talking points and topics.

Ask questions and gather information about who will be among your audience:

  • What are their pain points?
  • Why are they attending your presentation?
  • What information do they want or problem solved?

Have a Conversation

Stop viewing it as a presentation and start thinking of it as a conversation. Have you ever seen a speaker go into “presenter mode?” Their tone of voice and candescence becomes somewhat robotic or unnatural.

You can immediately tell the difference when they walk off stage and strike up a conversation versus when they’re presenting.

The easiest way to make it feel like a conversation is by engaging your audience with probing questions and thought-provoking statements.

Get your audience to think along with you, include them in the dialogue; make them feel like you can’t do this without them.

Notes can be a comfort blanket to many, even when you don’t need them. In fact, they often wind up being more of a crutch than an actual help and can make your manner of speaking rather stiff and unnatural.

Ditch the notes. You don’t need them! You wrote the speech, you know the topic, so speak from your heart and head, and the words will come naturally.

Would you read notes during a conversation over coffee with a colleague? Probably not — remember, this is nothing more than a conversation.

Make Audience Interactions Enjoyable

We’ve all had that nail-biting encounter where for one reason or another we’re singled out from the group to answer a question, share a story or give an opinion — it brings up unpleasant and embarrassing memories of our youth, unexpectedly being called on in class.

On the other hand, you may have been the presenter in this case; immediately once the audience know you’re about to call on someone at random, they all turn their eyes down, avoid your gaze or suddenly become consumed with their phones. Bottom line: no one likes to be put on the spot, especially against their will.

Yet, interacting with your audience and including them in your conversation is so key to creating true engagement. There’s a fine line between making audience interactions enjoyable and making them downright unbearable.

Here are a few tips:

  • Try something inclusive and no-pressure like, “by a show of hands…”
  • Ask for volunteers, rather than choosing someone at random. It may be a good idea to have a colleague or peer who is willing to volunteer as a back-up plan, in case your audience doesn’t jump at the opportunity.
  • Ensure participant success by asking questions anyone can easily respond to. For example, “Describe the most difficult client you’ve ever had,” adds more pressure than “Describe a challenging moment with a client.”
  • Thank your participants when a contribution is made. Even a simple “thank you” or “good point” can encourage the rest to join the conversation.

Break up Your Presentation

There are several ways you can break up your presentation effectively, so it doesn’t turn into one long, drawn out soliloquy:

  • Take a pause after key points, so your audience has a chance to digest the information and take it all in.
  • Pauses are also a great way to indicate to your audience they can join the conversation and give their input.
  • Share a personal anecdote or bit of humor to wake up your audience and get them to laugh and relate to you. People remember stories significantly more than facts and figures.
  • Take a sudden change in pace; for example, if you’ve been digging into the more technical content of your presentation, surprise your audience by stopping short and calling a coffee break or chance to stand up and stretch.
  • Structure your presentation to accommodate to audience attention span; target denser content towards the beginning, make it a bit lighter towards the middle, then bring it all together at the tail end.

Next time you’re due for a big presentation or simply an office meeting, remember the four core concepts of being an engaging speaker:

  • It’s not about you.
  • Have a conversation.
  • Make audience interactions enjoyable.
  • Break up your presentation.

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How to Be an Engaging Speaker and Keep Your Audience AWAKE
Are you prepping for a big presentation or just want an extra edge in your next company meeting? Learn how to be an engaging speaker, so you can keep your audience AWAKE.

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