When giving a presentation, keeping listeners focused on what you are saying is a kind of competition. All kinds of distractions are competing to lure your audience away, from smartphone screens to their neighbors to their own thoughts. It's important to grab their attention from the start and maintain a connection throughout your speech.
Here are 7 ways to keep your audience engaged:
Plan to Succeed
Great speakers have an outline and know their material backward and forwards, but when it comes to standing up in front of an audience, you must be able to speak from the heart. Presenting information in a natural, conversational manner is the result of thorough drafting, editing and multiple rounds of rehearsing. Although public speaking can be a nerve-wracking pursuit, your comfort level will increase as you prepare. Plan on putting in the prep time necessary to deliver an "effortless" speech. Mark Twain once stated, "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."
Give Them What They Want
Your goal should be to give people the best value for their time. Set the expectations by starting your presentation with a quick summary of how the speech will go. "For the next 45 minutes, I will talk to you about a variety of awkward moments. You will walk away with a better understanding of how to handle any situation with confidence and grace." This intro lets them know what they will learn during the time they share with you.
Telling a story is a powerful way to capture an audience from the start. Humans are wired for stories; people may forget facts or figures, but hearing of someone's experience stays with them, especially when it shows the speaker to be as human as they are. The most moving speakers relate their material to something in their own lives. Use anecdotes from your own experience to communicate your message and make it relatable. Sharing an embarrassing moment, a painful lesson or an epiphany that relates to your topic will help your audience bond with you while putting them at ease and increasing their interest in you.
Your Body Speaks
The message your body language sends is just as important as your verbal message. Your volume, tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression and stance will all work together to enhance your presentation. Watch for distracting nervous habits, such as shifting from one foot to the other, touching your face, playing with your hair or fidgeting. Maintain an open stance that subtly invites the audience to the conversation. Don't limit yourself to a podium; consider using all the space available to you on the stage. Periodically walking across the stage and to face different sections of the room as you speak will give the audience another reason to stay engaged while positioning you as a confident leader worth paying attention to.
If you are talking about physics to a fifth-grade class, you will adjust your speech to their age level. In the same way, tailor your presentation so it matches the knowledge level of your audience. Don't assume your audience knows what you are talking about. Even those within your industry have varying levels of knowledge so it's important to avoid jargon, confusing acronyms or insider lingo.
Use Humor Carefully
Light humor, when used appropriately, will relax your audience, make your presentation more fun and help people remember your topic. A bad joke, however, will make your speech fall flat. Avoid humor on polarizing subjects; no matter how well you think you know your crowd. Never assume everyone in the room is the same ideology or belief system. A genuine story that everyone can relate to is your best chance at getting an authentic chuckle. Run it by a few friends to gauge their reaction before attempting to roll it out in front of ten... or two hundred strangers.
Adrenaline often makes speakers rush through their words, making it hard to understand or take in what they're saying. Make a deliberate effort to slow down and incorporate a sense of timing. A well-timed pause serves several purposes: it allows your audience to absorb what you just said and provide space for audience reaction. Don't feel you have to fill every moment with the sound of your voice. Talking slowly and inserting the occasional pause will convey a sense of command that lets audiences know they are in capable hands.
The best speech is one where people leave with something new to utilize in their professional, or day to day life. Giving them something new and interesting to ponder takes careful contemplation, focus, research and rehearsal.