The Art of Speaking and Engaging the Audience

March 31, 2016

If there’s one thing all of our schooling had in common, it’s that we all headed for an assembly in the morning after registration. You may have had one every day or just once a week, but there is no denying we all experienced it and for the most part, all sighed at the prospect of it. Your headmaster or a Deputy Head droning on about some newspaper story he’d read over the weekend, which can definitely be linked back to your SATs results or how best to queue for the cafeteria at lunch. Assemblies have a lot to answer for when it comes to reticence in an audience towards public speaking… But here are a few tips on how to improve an event that features a speaker.

The first tip is to stop holding your speaking engagements in a gargantuan events hall, dinner tables strewn about with six chair surrounding them, despite the fact that only forty guests are attending. Is it really necessary to have all thirty tables out? Perhaps not. There is nothing that sinks a speaker’s heart more than when they first arrive at a venue and see this set up. An event planner or company manager will have a quick word, imploring them to motivate their clients and “do what you do” but grabbing the attention of the room is step one and quite frankly, this is difficult to do in this situation.

The first step is to do away with the tables (we appreciate this isn’t possible in a lot of situations), because it creates a barrier between the audience and the speaker. If we want to get all psychological on it, we’d say it acts as something to metaphorically hide behind. An audience member can chat to a colleague on their right, safe in the knowledge that the table will stop any of the speaker’s ideas heading their way.

Another step is to minimise the space. Sure, you may have needed a huge venue early in the morning for the big networking part of the day but now it’s time to funnel your guests into a small area to ensure that their focus is on the speaker at all times. Look to the theatre for your proof that this works; they have been doing this for years – row upon row of regimented seating in a tiny area. Many of the most popular plays of the last few years have started out in fab fringe theatres before making their way to the West End, often losing some of their power en route. This is no coincidence. If you have forty people, make sure they’re in front of the stage, all eyes on the speaker, all ears ready to go.

Of course, a good speaker will know that the battle is not yet won. Just like during assembly all those years ago (or only a few years for some of you), there is always a healthy dose of scepticism. “Will this man really motivate me? I’ve never of him.” “How exactly can the fact that she won the Dakar Rally translate to my work in freight logistics?” It’s okay, speakers get it. They get it all the time. They know that you’re looking at your watch before you even begin and that a slow start might lose you for the duration of their talk. Why do you think so many of them get you up on your feet early on? Yes, it ‘gets the energy going’ but it’s also good to make you forget about your initial dubiousness.

Another way that speakers engage an audience or even how you can work on engaging an audience as a speaker (maybe you found this site because of an upcoming engagement – good luck!) is by telling anecdotes. This doesn’t have to be funny or from your own personal life but can often be used to segue seamlessly into the point you actually want to make. Animal and insect anecdotes or facts, known as biomimicry, are a mainstay of the speaking circuit because they are so good at providing a clear message to an audience.

“Today I’m going to talk to you today about the effects of heat in the workplace.” Wow, what a thriller this will be! No, no, no! But if you started with, “There’s a termite colony in Zimbabwe that maintains a constant temperature within its mounds despite outside temperatures ranging from between 1.5C to 40C. Because of these little fellas, the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe was built. It uses no air conditioning, is constantly at the perfect temperature and only uses 10% of the energy a building like this normally uses.” You’re bound to sit up and start listening because a) that’s a great fact and b) you’re instantly wondering why this stuffy conference room doesn’t have the same energy. If only your workplace to solve these heating problems too… Hang on a minute! There you go! You’re engaged!

If you’re looking for a speaker for your upcoming event then hopefully this has provided you with an interesting read and may also help you through the tricky early stages of audience engagement! To check out just a few of our speakers, feel free to check out our page but do get in touch if you’re looking for something on a different topic; our website only shows a small portion of the people available!

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By Henry Fosdike