One of the worst nightmares of any public speaker is having to deal with an unengaged or uninterested audience.
Nothing is more horrifying than finding yourself in front of an audience that merely frowns at you, and barely responds while you speak.
Want to know what’s harder than getting on stage and speaking to an audience?
Getting and maintaining engagement from your audience throughout your speech.
Hello there again! Devon Brown here.
Today, I’m going to share a few tips with you. To be precise, 11 tips on how to engage an audience.
These tips are guaranteed to help you grab and hold the attention of any audience you speak to.
When you’re on stage, one of the things you want (and should look out for) is for the crowd or audience to be engaged with you.
Naturally, you’ll know it when you’re in front of an engaged audience.
Because your audience will give you signals... subtle feedback about your performance, that you should pay attention to, and act accordingly.
When you speak to an engaged audience...
They maintain eye contact...
When you move around on stage, their eyes follow you...
When you make a joke or say something funny, they laugh or change their facial expressions...
And when you ask them to respond or answer a question, they do so quickly, excitedly and loudly.
The real question is, how do you do this? How do you get that kind of engagement? How do you get your audience to respond to you when you speak?
These questions and more, are the ones I'll be answering with this article. Hopefully, at the end of it all, you'll know the dos and don'ts of getting and maintaining the attention and engagement of your audience.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Measure Audience Engagement And Level Up
In essence, you want to measure your audience’s energy level... and when you get up on stage, you want to do so, one or two levels above where they are.
Allow me to explain.
I actually learned what I’m about to teach you, back when I was a Taekwondo instructor years ago.
One of the groups of people I used to teach back then was little kids around ages four to six.
I’m sure you know this, but keeping little kids engaged with anything is serious HARD WORK.
What I discovered then, was that if I was the most exciting and energetic thing in the room, it was easier to keep the kids engaged with me. Put simply, wherever they were energy-wise, I’d come in one level or two above that.
My guess is that you aren’t teaching kids Taekwondo.
You’re probably about to talk to adults from a stage. In a way, it doesn’t matter, because the same rules apply to both scenarios.
The question you want to ask yourself right before getting on stage is “Where is the room at, energy-wise?”
Try gauging that on a scale of one to ten. If your audience is at a three, then you want to come in at a four or a five.
You may be wondering, why didn’t I ask you to come in at a nine or a ten?
Well, the answer to that is... you don't want to blow them out of the water with your energy.
You should be the most exciting thing in the room, but you should come in with just enough energy, that the audience doesn’t go “whoa, whoa, slow down there... that’s a bit too much”.
If your audience is at a nine, then yes. By all means, come in at a ten.
But if your audience is at a three, then you should come in at a four or five, energy-level-wise. That way, you're the most exciting thing in the room, and you get the engagement you want.
At the same time, you don’t want to come in so high, that you blow them straight out of the water.
So for tip #1, you should measure the energy level of your audience and then come in a level or two above that.
Use Stories And/Or Share Personal Experience
As you may very well know, stories or storytelling is pretty much hardwired into our DNA as human beings.
Before YouTube, social media, TV or even radios, there were groups of humans, sitting around campfires and sharing stories.
When you were little and you were going to bed at night, your parents likely read you a story or two before leaving the room. And when they did, you more than likely enjoyed these stories. You may be all grown up now, but your love for stories is 100% still there.
So when someone starts off their speech with a story, it is basically hardwired into us as people, to listen and engage with that story. Therefore, one of the things you absolutely want to do is to regularly use the power of stories to your advantage.
The other side of this is to use personal experiences as well.
It's easier to engage with someone when you feel a connection to them. One of the best ways to share a connection with a person or group of people is to share your personal experiences with them.
So tip #2 is to share personal experiences and use stories to get and maintain audience engagement.
Change Your Voice, Tone, Inflection, and Speed
Have you ever seen that meme of a guy with a twig, poking something and muttering “c’mon, do something!”?
If you haven’t seen this meme before, you’d probably have heard someone speak on stage in complete monotone.
This person’s speech likely drove you crazy, because the speaker didn’t do so much as move a muscle or change their facial expression… and if you were watching them, you likely felt like that meme guy with the twig, wanting to poke the speaker and begging them to “just do something other than... this... please!”
Speaking like that is boring. Please don’t do that. Unless you have to, for some reason.
One of the best ways to keep your audience engaged with you is to change your voice, tone, inflection, speed and volume at intervals.
For example, when I’m telling a story, I might slow down if it’s a serious part of the story. If it’s an exciting part I might speed up and get louder.
A Quick Personal Story: A while ago, I got off the stage after a speaking session. When I did, a woman walked up to me and said, “Devon, thank you for taking us on such a roller-coaster ride.”
What she meant by that, was that I did a good job of changing my speed, tone and volume the whole time, and keeping my audience engaged.
That was one of the best compliments I ever got as a public speaker.
Anyway, tip #3 is to change your voice, tone, inflection and speed.
Use Open Loops
This sounds way more ‘sciencey’ than it actually is.
Allow me to break it down for you into two simple words.
Does this make sense?
You should tell one part of the story first, and then break things off. When you don’t finish your story immediately, you can create an “OMG, what is the end of that?” effect with your audience.
Here’s a great example. When you watch an episode of a TV show that ends in a cliffhanger, and you have to wait until the next episode to see what happens after, that’s an example of an open loop.
When you watch these shows, you want the loop to finally close. And as long as that loop remains open, you’ll have that insatiable desire to see it closed.
One of the ways you can do something like this as a speaker is to use open loops to create curiosity about your stories or speech. You can tell your audience the first half of something and then reveal the end later on.
Doing this does a great job of keeping them engaged throughout your entire presentation.
To wrap things up, tip #4 is to use open loops.
Get Them Laughing
People love to laugh.
This tip is actually easier to use than you think. It is true that some people are naturally funnier than others.
If you’re outside the category of the “naturally funny”, don’t worry about it. There are many great ways to go around this and get your audience laughing.
One of the best ways I’ve discovered to engage an audience is to get them laughing early on. A good way to get them laughing early on, is to insert a funny slide into your presentation or speech, right off the bat.
Take this as an example.
Assume you’re giving a speech about dog training. What I would do if I were you, is to find a funny dog training meme. One with a dog attacking someone, or something along that line.
And then, I would start off my presentation by showing that meme.
I would make that meme my opening slide as a way to get my audience laughing… I already know the meme is funny, because I literally made a google search for “funny dog memes” before I found it.
If you can do that, then viola! You have a predictable laugh, early on in your presentation.
That laughter would help a lot, by way of audience engagement.
The more humor you can add to your presentation, talk or speech... the more you can get people laughing, then the better off you’ll be.
If you ever get a chance, you could always google “ways to add humor to a presentation,” and see what I’m talking about.
One of the things that help people connect and engage is when they see the 'real' person speaking to them.
When people see that whoever is on stage is in fact, a human being and not some infallible “high and mighty” guru, they find it easier to relate and therefore feel engaged with you.
When you're on stage, one of the things you want to do to engage the audience is to be vulnerable.
Let me be clear: When I say "be vulnerable", I'm not asking you to turn your talk into some "doom and gloom" sad-fest.
Don’t get up on stage and bare the deepest parts of your soul to your audience. What I want you to do instead, is what is called ‘authentic vulnerability’.
If you're being vulnerable, only to try and get a certain outcome, then that's manipulation and doesn't count as genuine or authentic vulnerability.
On the other hand, if you’re being vulnerable because it’s legitimately part of the story or something your audience needs to know, then you should absolutely share it.
It’s okay to let yourself appear in a light that’s less than perfect. Because you’re human, and perfect people don’t exist.
Get Off The Stage And Into The Crowd
Remember when you were in school?
Those times during tests when the teacher left their desk and started walking around the classroom.
How did you feel?
You felt engaged really quickly, didn't you? That feeling you got when the teacher was no longer in sight, was a form of engagement.
In between the test, the teacher would have had a good part of your attention. Because you just had to know where they were, or what they were doing at any point in time.
The same applies to you as a speaker.
When you get off the stage and interact with your audience, a few things happen.
One, you become less of some infallible high-and-mighty guru, and more of a friend or a comrade… because you’re among your audience, and therefore part of them.
Two, you have the ability to actually connect to them on an individual basis. Because you’re walking right by them, engaging with them, and giving them hi-fives.
When you walk right by members of your audience, rest assured, that they're going to feel a lot more engaged.
Take my situation as an example. At this stage of my career, I’ve been ON stage so much, that it feels funny to STAY ON stage. If that makes any sense to you.
The first thing I do at this point when I get on stage is to run off stage and into the audience.
So tip #7 is to get off the stage and into the crowd… in fact, this is one of my favorite ways to get and maintain audience engagement.
Get Your Audience To Participate
Granted, whenever you’re on stage, you’re going to be the one speaking.
At the same time, whenever you’re on stage, you’re supposed to be having a ‘conversation’ with your audience. It doesn’t matter if your stage is a YouTube or Instagram video, or if your stage is a physical one. When you speak, you want to find ways to keep your audience participating, and engaged
Your audience will raise their hands or get a partner to hi-five, counting as participation, and helping them feel included... helping them feel engaged with you and your message.
Anything you can do to get them to participate in the conversation is going to help you, by way of audience engagement.
To sum things up, tip #8 is to get your audience to participate.
WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)
WIIFM is an old speakers adage, and here’s what you need to understand about it: WIIFM means “What’s in it for me?”, and is an interesting question.
I find this question interesting because it is a question we humans are always asking ourselves whenever someone is speaking to us. It doesn't matter if the speaker is in a TV commercial or whatever. The fact remains the same:
We’re always asking the same question “What’s in it for me?”
If you can answer this question FOR your audience and let them know what’s in it for them, they’re going to be more engaged with you.
If the answer to their “what’s in it for me” question is clear to them, they’ll be more inclined to listen and give you their attention.
Actually, the WIIFM question dovetails wonderfully into tip #10, because tip #10 for engaging an audience is…
Speak To Their Interests
Make no mistake, your speech or talk is about THEM. Your audience, I mean.
Your speech and everything you do on stage is always about your audience, and you need to speak to their interests... not yours.
For example, If I try to speak to you about something you don’t give two flips about… you’ll most likely leave me hanging. You’d be gone, probably before I got a chance to finish.
On the other hand, if I try to speak to you about something you find exciting, you're more likely to listen. It becomes so much easier for me to grab your undivided attention because I'm speaking to your interests.
Remember What Your Audience Really Wants
Okay, but what does your audience really want? Do you know the answer to this?
The easy answer is “authenticity”.
AUTHENTICITY CAN BE FELT... It’s as simple as that.
Being truly who you are and not needing to be someone else is what I mean by authenticity. Being able to share your heart... to speak from your essence and truth in the most honest way possible, is what connects us humans to one another.
The more authentic you can be, the more engaged your audience is going to be.
One of my favorite things about seeing someone who is truly authentic on stage is that watching them be authentic gives me permission to be authentic as well.
Because when you get on stage in all authenticity, your audience has permission to be authentic as well, helping you form a beautiful bond with them, and helping them appreciate the time they spent listening to you.
So, tip #11 is to remember what your audience really wants. And what your audience really wants is not for you to be perfect or to be high and mighty. What they want is for you to be AUTHENTIC.
How to Engage an Audience: The Wrap-Up
There you have it: 11 tips on how to engage an audience. I hope that you find them helpful, and I hope that at least one of them helps you when you implement them in your next speech or video.
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