How to Engage Your Audience When Speaking

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” There’s a reason why this iconic sentence, famously uttered by John F. Kennedy, America’s youngest-ever elected president, has remained indelibly imprinted in history, and it’s not only because of his tragic assassination in the early 1960s. The youthful leader was famed for his excellent oratorical skills, coupled with his considerable influence and public appeal.

It requires a singular intellect and charisma to engage an audience, and there are some well-known speakers who do possess this innate ability. But you don’t have to occupy a prominent position in life in order to learn to capture and hold the attention of your audience, however big or small. Take a leaf from the books of the world’s best orators, and you’ll soon have your listeners hanging on your every word.

Keep it Simple

Whether you’re a teacher delivering a lesson to a class, or a doctor giving a lecture, keep your language simple and easy to understand by using short sentences and keeping your tone conversational. Where possible, avoid unnecessary, elevated and jargon-infused language, and follow technical words with an immediate explanation. Your choice of words is of the utmost importance – some of the world’s best-known leaders have used words both stirring and poignant to inspire and engage their audiences. You can also lighten the mood by adding the odd joke or humorous comment.

Involve Your Audience

Audience participation is an easy and enjoyable way of livening up a talk, particularly if that talk lasts over an hour. Research shows that most audiences will start to exhibit restlessness around the 30-minute mark, so halfway through is an excellent time to recapture their attention by directly involving participants. Though questions addressed to the whole audience are often employed, it has been found that most audiences regard these as rhetorical and are usually reluctant to volunteer answers. It is, therefore, wiser to select an individual or ask for a single volunteer.

Support Your Argument

Humans are innately visual learners. Take advantage of this by presenting your information using graphics. This will require a little more preparation but has the benefit of making your presentation more memorable and coherent as a whole. There is a plethora of visual material to choose from nowadays, and you may opt to show a video clip, slides or pictures to support your argument further. Many interactive games are available online for younger learners, while a multitude of quizzes can be created to challenge and engage a more mature audience.

Mind Your Body Language

Studies show that 70% of our communication is delivered non-verbally. Pay attention to what your body is doing, and you will directly affect your audience’s attention. While gestures are highly encouraged to help illustrate one’s point, make sure you don’t go overboard with the gesticulations – these can be distracting. Instead, go for natural, relaxed body language to make you seem open and approachable.

Make eye contact with members of your audience; give participants time to respond, and avoid defensive and aggressive body language, such as crossed arms.

And remember to smile!