Public Speaking A to Z: E is for Engaging

Kafui Dey

Imagine you are in the audience at a public event. The MC introduces the speaker who shuffles to the podium and begins to speak. Not once does he look at the people who have gathered to hear him speak.One hand in his pocket, his eyes are fixed firmly on his written speech and he is determined to read it word for word. As soon as the talk is over, he slouches back to his seat without taking questions.

What would be your impression of such a speaker? Would you be excited to hear him deliver another address in future? I doubt it very much.Why is this? He failed to involve his audience. He was unable to involve them in his speech. He missed an opportunity to hold the attention of those who came to hear him speak. How can you avoid those
pitfalls and make your talk engaging?

Smile and question
An engaging speaker is one who wins the confidence and trust of their audience. And it starts before you say a word. When you are introduced walk briskly to the stage. Face the audience, keep your hands open and smile at them for about 30 seconds.

Another technique is to ask a thought-provoking question that will get them answering vocally or silently (“Who else wants to retire wealthy?”). Both techniques are sure to make you the focus of attention and get the audience involved in what is to happen.

Connect with your eyes
A sure way to disconnect from an audience is to read your whole speech verbatim. People need to have visual contact when you are talking to them and note reading robs them of that need.

What you can learn to do is break your talk down into key ideas that can fit on the back of a business card. If that is too small for you, try jotting down the highlights on a couple of Post-It notes which can be stuck on the podium for easy reference. A speech should feel like a conversation and the more you can look at the audience, the more it will resemble a chat between friends.

Make it two-way
Have you noticed how great speakers ask their audiences to respond to questions or even repeat key phrases after them? These are effective ways of connecting with people who are listening to your address. As speech can be a two-way affair if you ask for feedback during the delivery (“Are you following?”)

Allow questions and answers

Another way to foster an engaging atmosphere is to ask for questions and comments at the end of your talk. If you have been given 20 minutes to talk, try to end 5 minutes earlier so you can field a few questions. This gives the audience an opportunity to connect with you and clarify sticky points.

Keep your audience on your side by engaging them. It will improve the quality of your public speaking.


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