Public Speaking (Engaging your audience)

PDF Copy

Public speaking is scary.  75% of the population is thought to have this fear making it one of the most common. While it might not the toughest fear to overcome it can stop many people ifrom sharing your views and achieving goals. These tips are intended help you manage the challenge of public speaking.

Engaging Your Audience

Like all communications, before you deliver your message, you need to know why the audience should care. If you don’t know why they are there, then they won’t be able to figure it out either. If they can’t figure it out then the entire time you’re speaking, they are going to be wondering when you’re going to stop. That’s no fun for anyone.

If you’ve ever been entranced by a message that you would normally find tedious, ask yourself why. Years ago millions of viewers would tune into Seinfeld episodes week after week and then talk about it at work, yet it was a show about nothing. Jerry Seinfeld joked about the fact that the show had no real premise and the characters weren’t particularly likeable, yet it was a complete success. The trick was the delivery. It was funny, preposterous and sometimes shocking. It always got your attention. Be intentional when you speak, care about what you are saying and think about what your audience needs and you will engage your audience.

Be Honest

Being honest is also critical to success. When you lie or misrepresent the facts, you send clues. Unless you’re a professional liar or award-winning actor your body will give you away. Your speech may slow, and have more pauses. Your face may flush; you may have a nervous reaction or stutter. Even if your audience isn’t filled with police detectives, your manner will make the audience uncomfortable. What’s more, lying about one element of your presentation can undermine your entire presentation if people realize what youíve done. Lying also discredits you and your brand.

Be Helpful & Responsive

If your audience has questions, help them to ask; don’t put them on the spot or ridicule them if the answer seems obvious.  If possible, let them ask questions in the middle of your presentation, it will contribute to a more organic exchange and better engagement.

  • Always be polite.

  • Avoid racy language or any comments that are derogatory to a specific group.

  • A sense of humour is great since it will help you and your audience to relax, but it shouldn’t come at someone else’s expense.

Be Patient

Speed talking through your presentation will ensure that your message is unclear. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly. When you practice, make sure to include pauses at key points.  Give people a brief moment to reflect on important information.

Speaking Tips

  • Get their attention right off the bat. Start with a funny story, a shocking statistic, a current event that is related to your topic, or a provocative question.

  • Give them the reasons why they should listen.

  • Break your argument into clear segments (three is the magic number in communications but if necessary you can add more but not much more).

  • The body of your speech (or the middle) is where you will deliver your main messages or information.

  • Give your audience an opportunity to ask questions.

  • Watch the time you have been given and stay within your limits.

  • End by briefly summarizing what you’ve said to ensure your messages have been delivered.

Getting the Delivery Right

When you are writing your speech or presentation, make sure the comprehension level of your language is appropriate to the audience. It ís easy to slip into jargon or language that you are familiar with, but resist the urge. Unless you know that all or most of the audience is intimate with your subject matter, keep your language plain.

Practice your speech or presentation; this will help you to sound more natural when you are delivering it, and minor interruptions like questions are less likely to throw you off. If you are using slides, avoid reading every word. It will make you sound like a robot and begs the question, why does the audience need you, if all youíre going to do is read? Let the slides reinforce your key messages; you should be delivering the colour commentary. In other words, tell stories or provide examples that make your facts come alive.

Be Creative

Look for ways to make your presentation interesting; provide a new perspective or approach. Try to think of a new way of delivering all of your information, even if you can’t always do this successfully, the act of trying will keep your content interesting. If you’re not sure how you can change your presentation try turning your approach upside down. Make your last point your first and go from there.


Be Confident

As long as you are presenting, you are the expert. If you’re not sure how to sound confident, then keep mind that doing things like dropping your pitch at the end of a sentence is often associated with certainty and dominance. On a related note, don’t draw attention to your mistakes. Avoid repeating sentences unless you are doing it for emphasis. Keep in mind that this is a performance, delivering a good speech usually involves some acting – act confident, even if you aren’t.

  • Change the pace and tone of your speech. When you don’t vary your tone then you drone.

  • Don’t mumble or whisper. Speak to the person furthest away from you, that way you ensure everyone can hear. If it helps, focus on a friendly face and speak to that person.


Pay attention to the body language of your audience. Are they asleep? Engaged? Bored? If they are repeatedly looking at their watches or twitching in their seats that’s a hint for you to engage them with a question, action or speed up the process. Its a good idea to build into your presentation opportunities for engaging your audience. You can ask them to guess a statistic or try a quick exercise. If someone provides you with additional information during a speech, accept it and thank the audience member for their contribution. If they are adding information, then they are paying attention.


Tips on Dealing with Difficult Situations

Although it doesn’t happen often, every once in a while you will come across someone who wants to challenge the authority of the speaker. They may have an agenda of their own and are looking for a forum. They may simply be cranky. Whatever the reason for the interruption, keep these tips in mind.

  • Challenge a negative premise. The world isn’t always doom and gloom and worst-case scenarios are interesting, but not the only eventuality. Most speakers don’t want to pull their audience into a negative place, manage the negative commentary.

  • Don’t repeat baiting words. Use your own words or risk being quoted later with words you never intended to utter.

  • Be calm yet assertive. If you are yelling or responding emotionally then you are giving too much importance to the disruptor.

  • Don’t speak on behalf of others unless that is your role.

  • Remember your brand, any comment you make will be recalled as being organizational.

  • Give a reason why you can’t answer a question and move on. If you are not sure what to say, then say, you would need to give the question more thought, you would need more information or the question is outside of your area.

  • Don’t guess or speculate. While it is often harmless, it can lead to you saying things that could later be taken out of context or misinterpreted

  • Break up multi-part questions in your answer. This will help to ensure that your response to one portion isn’t attributed to another.

Tips on Managing Nerves

All public speakers experience nerves at some point, even the most experienced. Avoid doing things that will exacerbate or enhance your nervousness.

  • Don’t drink too much coffee or caffeinated pop just before speaking.

  • Be prepared for your presentation.  Study your materials carefully before delivering..

  • Avoid drinking alcohol before a speech.

  • Do deep breathing exercises (breath from your belly), shoulder rolls and neck stretches all help you to physically relax.

  • Keep your food intake to simple non-fatty meals.

  • Avoid taking medication that will make you drowsy.

  • Visualize yourself speaking; imagine yourself confident and assured.

  • Be yourself, be genuine and natural.

  • Realize that people want you to succeed; they want a good presentation as well.

  • Forget about yourself; people want to hear your message to focus on it, not yourself.

  • Try to think ahead of all possible questions you may be asked.

  • Bring cheat notes for yourself in case your mind goes blank.

Related Articles: