Many leaders thrive under pressure and are energised by interacting with others, yet still flinch at the thought of public speaking. The key to reducing anxiety over public speaking and ensuring that a presentation is spectacular is to actively work to engage the audience with a few tried and true tricks.
One of the greatest effects a speaker can have on audience engagement is to mindfully change their attitude. Instead of approaching a presentation as something they “have to do”, simply reframing it as an opportunity to have fun and share their interest in a topic with others can help this enthusiasm to spread to the audience. It should come as no surprise that an audience would much rather watch a presentation given by a speaker who is actively engaged in their own material and experience than one who is just trying to rush through the material.
Before the speech ever begins, a speaker can greatly reduce their anxiety by taking the time to research their topic thoroughly. Of course, it should go without saying that the speaker should take the time to thoroughly rehearse their speech until it flows naturally, but preparing a great speech goes beyond rehearsing. Gathering interesting facts from a wide variety of disciplines can help the speaker to feel confident in their base of knowledge and to come across as a well-researched expert to their audience. Holding a few of these interesting details back from the main presentation can give the speaker a reserve of interesting tangents to pull out should the audiences’ attention begin to stray.
Once a speaker has taken the stage, the first thing the speaker should do is mindfully observe their audience. Taking the time to look out at the audience and observe their general attitude can give the speaker several clues for how to continue. If the presentation is being given first thing in the morning, right after lunch, or at the tail end of the day, the audience may appear to be tired, preoccupied, or downright bored.
If meetings are regularly scheduled at times when the audience is likely to be disengaged, planning ahead to include audience participation can go a long way to making the time fly by. Structuring discussion points as a debate, asking the audience to answer questions, or even using breakout groups for small activities can help everyone to have a great time.
If the format of the presentation doesn’t lend itself to audience participation, it is important for speakers avoid the temptation to stand still and speak with a monotone. Audience members have a limited attention span, so speakers should take care to move around, change their tone, tell jokes, or otherwise mix up delivery methods. The more often the speaker is able to recapture the attention of the audience, the more likely everybody involved is to enjoy their time together.
Finally, the speaker should remain mindfully aware of their experience throughout the presentation process. Taking the time to pause for just a few seconds between concepts allows your audience to process what they have heard so far, and provides the speaker with an opportunity to relax tense muscles gather their thoughts for the next segment. Maintaining a relaxed attitude while presenting a well-researched speech to an audience who is directly addressed and asked to actively participate will ensure that the speaker is seen as a leader in their field.
Head of Training and Development