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Leadership & Communication

5 essential tips for engaging an audience

31 Jul 2013, by Informa Insights

Public speaking is rarely easy. Whether you’re inexperienced, talking to a large group of people or are presenting to high-profile executives, there are a number of factors that may have you especially nervous when public speaking.

Many speakers tend to become introverted in these circumstances and read mechanically from a prepared script and slideshow.

Here are five top tips for turning your run-of-the-mill presentations into public speaking masterpieces.

Use examples

Audiences love stories, so using a specific example to outline the concept or theory you are trying to explain will go a long way in keeping the audience interested.

Whether it’s funny, tragic or inspirational, you should be able to evoke an emotional response, which can turn even the driest of subjects into a water cooler discussion point.

Finding it tough to come up with your own examples? Seasoned speakers often ask the audience if they have examples – this not only takes the pressure off you, it can provoke debate.


If you are covering a complex topic or a subject that is necessary but perhaps a bit dull, then try to liven it up with a demonstration.

Bring your own props, act out parts of the speech physically or even bring someone onto the stage to help you.

Getting the audience involved in this way prevents them from being bored and makes them feel a part of the presentation, even if they’re the lucky ones that escape your attention!

Adding imagery

Any public speaker worth their salt will know their way around a PowerPoint presentation.

However, the difference between a vivid and exciting slideshow and something that sends the audience to sleep is a skill that not every speaker has mastered.

Let’s face it, many people claim that former US vice-president Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize for his slideshow on global warming!

When putting images in your slideshow, make sure they are high-quality, relevant to the issue and add something to the concept that you are discussing.

Ask questions, but avoid answering them!

Asking lots of questions during your presentation forces the audience to think, not least because they might be worried you are going to pick on someone to answer.

These can be rhetorical or actual questions, inviting people to pitch in and offer ideas and solutions to encourage debate among attendees.

Make sure you are knowledgeable on the subject so that you can highlight any inconsistencies in answers given or add extra value to audience contributions.

However, you should try to avoid answering questions where you can. These can disrupt your presentation and take you off on a tangent, particularly if the audience member is trying to catch you out with a toughie.

Either rebound the question back out into the audience to get them involved, or politely say that you are happy to answer questions … during a Q&A session in the speech.

Acknowledge contributions

People are often hesitant to make suggestions or contribute in a group – particularly if it’s a large conference or high-profile event.

It probably harkens back to being in school and being mocked for getting a teacher’s question wrong in front of everyone.

As such, make sure to acknowledge and thank people who throw caution to the wind and speak up – creating an inclusive environment helps people to feel more comfortable and will no doubt encourage greater audience participation.

If you’re really keen to have audience input, you can even ask them to brainstorm for the first five or so minutes of the presentation.

This scenario is particularly useful when you’re speaking on a problem-solving issue.

Register your interest to participate in a training course with focus on presenting to boards.

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