How to Captivate Any Audience

You don’t have to be a TED speaker, you just need these four tips.

Image Credit: Alejandro Alvarez

“Is he sweating?”

Once, a sports blogger came to my journalism class in college, and started pitching his site in an effort to get part-time low cost writing help.

He was nervous.

He told us there was a lot of writing involved in this role, and in a misguided effort to engage the women in the room he laid this sparkling gem on us:

“…And we even have several women who work with us, y’all know how women love to type.”

Damn.

You could FEEL the shockwave pulse in the room.

People started leaning back, subtle glances were exchanged with classmates, eyebrows were raised.

He lost the audience. The presentation was effectively over. No one wanted to work for him.

When most people think about speaking in front of a group, they imagine running on a stage, donning a Britney Spears mic, and speaking to an auditorium full of people.

The reality is, almost no one does this.

But what about leading a meeting, giving an impromptu presentation, telling a story to three of your friends, or speaking up on a conference call?

Your body still fires those cortisol torpedoes, your hands still become clammy, and your back stiffens like you’re about to get hit in the stomach.

Any type of public speaking can trigger these responses. It’s best to be prepared.

Here are five ways you can be an incredible public speaker, even if you never don a Britney mic or give a TED talk.

You are not as important as your audience.

When you think of incredible presenters what do you picture?

I picture someone leading others with their words, ideas, and energy. Someone who adapts to their audience, and sets the stage for action. They may be the presenter, but their audience is the focus.

They are captivating.

Your audience might be tired employees at a late afternoon meeting, it might be a group of new energetic friends at a bar at 11:30 PM.

Ask: What does my audience need from me in this moment?

  • Do they need empathy? “I know you guys are ready to get out of here, we’ll make this meeting short and sweet.”
  • Do they need entertainment? “So this one time in South Padre…”
  • Do they need empowerment? “What do you all think about this? How would you handle it in the future?”

Deliver your message while giving your audience that they need. That’s very persuasive. Your message will land with impact.

Knowing your audience is a huge first step, but how you deliver that message in the moment matters too.

Embrace the spotlight.

Ever notice how some people just seem to love the spotlight? I’m not talking about the people who desperately need to stroke their own egos, but rather the people who genuinely seem to thrive while in front of a group.

Here’s what they do:

They manage the internal.

Many times when people speak publicly, you’ll notice something interesting. They’ll do one of a few things:

  • Self-deprecate too much.
  • Rush their words like they have a getaway car waiting for them outside.
  • Ramble.
  • Fidget or get antsy.
Image Credit: Jeff Callahan

These are symptoms of the same root cause: The feeling that “I have to be really good or I’ll lose their attention.”

Great presenters approach this in a completely different way.

They go external and focus on the situation. They frame the situation as “I already have their attention, now I get to play and have a good time.”

Will they always keep 100% of everyone’s attention? Of course not. But the method they use is one of abundance (“I already have their attention.”) instead of scarcity. (“I need to hold onto their attention.”)

They pump up the volume.

I’m a big fan of low hanging fruit. What is the number one thing that most people could fix right away that will have the most immediate impact on their public speaking skills?

Speaking louder!

Your voice always sounds louder in your head than it does to the person in the back of the room. Sound waves are funny like that.

Most people could stand to talk 50% louder.

How to do this:

I used to be a notorious soft talker. Then I started speaking to groups and leading events.

Step 1. Stand up if you can. You’re always going to talk louder when you stand up.

Step 2. Breathe is power. Breathe in before you speak and talk from your lower abdomen. Your voice will have more resonance and volume.

Step 3. End statements with a distinct downward inflection. This will help maximize your message’s impact. Don’t let your inflection go up unless your asking a question.

Tasty, tasty low hanging fruit.

Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo

Have a framework for speaking in front of a group.

Would you build a house without blueprints?

No!

So why do most of us say “I’ll just wing it.” when it comes to leading meetings, or telling stories in groups?

How can we strike a balance between spontaneous and canned?

I like to have a framework, a template that I can seamlessly adjust from audience to audience.

This framework is a powerful way to land your messages with the most impact:

1. Front load attention. This might be asking (and not immediately answering) question, or a quick story.

2. Summary. Put the summary first. Most people put this last. That is a mistake because people assign more importance to things that come first.

3. Explain the why. This is the reasoning, the rational, the impact piece.

4. Answer any objections before they happen. Think of this like an FAQ. This will reduce questions, and gain buy-in.

5. End with next steps or a call to action. People typically don’t mind being led, give them an easy next step.

Example

Say you need to roll out a new process to your team. Here what this framework might look like in practice:

1. “What’s a feeling that almost everyone wants more of?” Responses from audience may include: happiness, less stress, joy, etc.

2. “All good responses. How about feeling understood? Starting next quarter, we’re rolling out a new way to connect with and understand more about our clients so we can serve them better…” Here’s the summary. People know what your message is.

3. “The reason we’re do this is because we’ve uncovered some areas for growth with clients after projects are complete…” The why is important so that your audience understands why the change is being made.

4. “Now I know what you might be thinking: Will this add more to dos to my already full plate? No, we’re carving out the time by getting rid of TPS reports.” Answering objections FAQ style is a great way to gain buy in from your audience because it shows that you’re thinking about what’s important to them.

5. “You all should have an email with more particulars. This rolls out next quarter.” Clear next steps show people what to do.

Start small

Every day, you have small situations where you can practice the skill of public speaking. The Monday meeting at work, or dinner with your friends.

Starting small is great because if you screw up, guess what? No one remembers. Try again next time and fix what needs to be fixed.

Next step

If you want a little extra help, I created a free guide complete with word-for-word scripts to help you get out of your own head and effortlessly join & enjoy group conversations.

Get it here.


One last thing…

If you found this article helpful, would you mind recommending it by clicking the 💚 heart so other people can read it?