How to Make Your Audience Listen When Public Speaking

I LOVE this article by fellow member of Adrian’s Network, Diane DiResta of DiResta Communications.  You MUST read it if you do any public speaking at all!


Does your audience tune out? Do you have trouble keeping them engaged?  It’s challenging enough to get the attention of one listener. It’s even harder to command a large audience. With less time to do more, competing priorities and so much incoming data, most audiences are on sensory overload. It’s no wonder people are on their smart phones instead of listening to you.

How can you grab attention in an A.D.D. world?

Here are 3 simple tips to get any audience to listen to you: Provoke, Evoke, Poke.

Provoke. Are you delivering the same old same old? A professional speaker shared a recent experience he had with his audience. During the beginning of his presentation he looked out on a group actively engaged with their phones. A few minutes later he noticed heads starting to bob up. Then they put their phones down and started to listen. Apparently he had said something that got their attention.  Step one is to provoke the audience by delivering new information, controversial content or something that is thought provoking. It doesn’t have to be cutting edge but it should be something that makes them think. How can you say something in a new way? How can you connect the dots in a way that they haven’t heard before?

Evoke. Beyond thought provoking content, strive to evoke an emotional response. The best way to trigger an emotional experience is through stories and humor. Help the audience experience a feeling as you take them through a journey of highs and lows. When information is anchored to an emotion, the message sticks. Think of a moment of crisis. Most people can remember where they were during the 911 attack in New York City. What will evoke an emotion in your audience? Try showing a motivational video clip or a funny cartoon.  I remember watching a video of a woman who was confined to a wheel chair who took took her first skydive jump strapped to the instructor. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Whenever there is strong emotion, the audience will be engaged.

Poke. Another way to get your audience to listen is to poke them physically. Get them out of their heads and into their bodies. Invite them to enter the world of activity. Most audience members expect to sit back and be lectured. Don’t spoon feed them. Make them part of the presentation. It can be as simple as asking them to repeat a refrain. Repetition is powerful. Ask them to stand and turn toward their partner. Let them participate in a poll. One speaker would sporadically flash a slide of a fish. Whenever they saw the fish, the group was expected to do a clapping rhythm the speaker taught them. Their eyes were glued to the screen as they eagerly anticipated the flashing fish.

And if getting them away from their phones is like taking away Linus’ blanket, follow this old adage: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I project hashtags for my presentations, along with my twitter handle and ask them to tweet. It causes the audience to listen and you also get social media klout.

The most important question is: Are you listening to the audience? March is Listening Awareness month. Remember to listen.

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