The Art of Speaking  

How to keep your audience engaged

Hanging on every word

YouTube /Wade Paterson

People’s attention spans seem to keep getting shorter and shorter.

In fact, you are probably already debating whether you’re going to continue reading this column, or click away to one of the thousands of other stories vying for your attention on this website.

When it comes to public speaking, an in-person audience member isn’t likely to get up and walk out in the middle of your speech; however, you’re still competing with his/her phone, as well as side conversations in the room.

This month, I break down four strategies, which will help you get – and keep - your audience’s attention.

Hook them with the intro

My favourite style of speech is the type that comes around full circle. These speeches usually incorporate a powerful opening statement or a line that captures the audience’s attention, but also acts as a bit of a cliff hanger, leaving your audience wanting more. The body of the speech then builds the structure behind your intended message, while the conclusion references the opening and essentially ties everything together.

For example, if I wanted to give a speech about the power of asking questions in conversations, my introduction could be something like this:

"Do you want to be more liked? Do you want to people to enjoy every conversation they have with you? Do you also want to become a better listener?

"In this speech, I’m going to show you how to do all of those things. In fact, without you knowing, I already did…"

This intro is creative and is likely to tap into the curiosity of your audience. From there, the body of the speech could dive into the research behind why people enjoy conversations in which they are asked questions. The conclusion could tie everything together, perhaps by ending with a question to drive home the point.

Use vocal variety

There’s nothing worse than listening to a speaker deliver a speech with a monotone voice. It’s difficult to stay engaged as an audience member when every sentence sounds the same and the tempo never changes.

Vocal variety is one of the most underrated tools you have access to as a public speaker. By suddenly clapping your hands or raising your voice in the middle of the speech, you will re-capture your audience’s attention. On the flip side, this can also be accomplished by lowering your voice and slowing down the pace of your speech, especially at an intense or emotional part of the story.

Intentionally incorporating vocal variety throughout an entire speech is one of the best ways to keep your audience engaged from start to finish.

Maintain eye contact

It's not an easy task to look the audience in the eyes when you’re in stage.

Throughout my years in the Toastmasters program, I’ve noticed many new speakers either look at the ceiling or the floor before they’ve mastered the skill of eye contact. Those who look at the ceiling usually do so when they’re thinking of what to say next. Those who look at the floor are often struggling with confidence.

It's easier for audience members to get distracted when a speaker isn’t maintaining eye contact because there’s less of a connection. If you can purposefully incorporate eye contact, which scans the entire room, people will be less likely to look at their phones, because there’s a heightened level of accountability knowing that you will be looking directly at them before long.

If you’re speaking to an audience virtually (such as a Zoom call), you want to periodically look directly at the camera to maintain the virtual version of eye contact.

Incorporate a participation element

My fourth suggestion for keeping your audience engaged is to get your audience involved in your speech.

You can do this by asking a question and getting the audience to raise their hands if they agree, or you can ask them to close their eyes and visualize something happening.

Many people learn more effectively when they are actively involved, so audience participation is another powerful way to keep your audience engaged in your speech.

I hope these tips help you to capture (and maintain) your audience’s attention during your next speech.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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