Public speaking can be pretty intimidating. For many people, it can feel like a highly challenging task and one that makes them feel pretty anxious, so they tend to avoid it. However, public speaking is an essential skill in many fields and will help you improve your career and move forward.
Speaking at conferences, giving presentations, and taking part in professional events will establish you as a knowledgeable professional and someone with in-demand skills. Here are some tips to engage any audience and succeed at your presentation or talk.
Ask the audience questions
The first tip to hook an audience is to ask them questions to ponder. Start your speech by presenting them with an intriguing question. Tie this question to your presentation but don’t give the answer right away. When people expect you to answer a question they want to know more about, they will pay more attention.
Tailor your examples to the audience
Giving examples is very important. They help the information stick and also clarify what you are talking about. However, you should try to tailor your examples to the audience in front of you. Make them relatable: talk to teens about teen problems and to sci-fi geeks about sci-fi.
Focus your examples on the industry, if relevant, or on life experiences that will be relatable to most of your audience. If they feel that you understand them, they will pay more attention.
Build suspense as you tell a story
In the same way that you don’t always want to answer a question right away to build suspense, you don’t always want to give away the end of a story.
We are naturally wired to like stories and when we hear the beginning, we want to stay till the end. By tying in the middle or in the end of your speech, you can keep the audience more interested, hoping to hear what happened.
Get people involved
A common mistake is to avoid looking at or engaging with the audience. Instead, it’s useful to bring people in. Ask them to raise their hands, to answer questions, to do an exercise (even if it is just imagining something). Also, try to speak to everyone and look at the people in the back seats, in the middle, and in the front, so nobody feels bored or disconnected.
If you can, you can bring in volunteers or ask people from the audience to help you or to answer something for you, but a more direct engagement will not always be possible.
Keep it light
Even if you are presenting at a very serious conference, there is no need to take yourself too seriously. Add humor if it is appropriate, as that will help everyone, including you relax and enjoy the speech.
Humor is not always appropriate, of course, but in most cases, a small joke or a little bit of irony will help you.
If you come onto the podium as a person condemned to death, the audience is likely to feel your discomfort. It’s not a pleasant feeling. While you might be anxious as you take the stage, focus on the elements that you enjoy.
Likely, you will be talking about something you know, so try to consider your favorite elements, stories, and what you enjoy from the topic.
Put some energy into it
Avoid reading your speech and don’t be that guy or gal who is just reading the slides. Audiences can read. They want to see you talk about something you know, so try to offer a little energy.
If you are bored and disengaged, why should other people feel interested?
Ask for feedback and give space for questions
During your presentation, you should always try to leave room for questions. The questions people ask will help you see how you did and also make them feel more invested, as they get to participate directly and let themselves be heard too.
If possible, you can ask the audience for feedback after the talk, but the questions are a great solution. You can mention at the start that there will be a question round, it will help people to prepare.