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How to capture and hold an audience

29 May 2017

Public speaking, in fact speaking in public, scares everyone to some degree or another. Let’s assume you have found your way to manage your fear of speaking in public and you’re now ready to focus on capturing and holding audience attention, you’ll need some ideas.

Here we bring together some of the best tips we’ve found on getting and holding the attention of others.

According to Suzi Dougherty, a WAPPA trained actor and founding member of Bell Shakespeare, cultivating your presence is important and it can be learned: “Presence is made up of four key factors: your voice, how you look, your stance and your body language.”

Analysing each of these and developing your own authentic voice, look, stance, body language will help you to have PRESENCE.

She also notes: “People with powerful presence remember people’s names, are not late, write thank you notes, are polite and build rapport with people, no matter who they are.”

According to business woman Carla Zampatti, capturing your audience may mean taking risks: “I think people must stretch beyond what they think they can do, especially women. You need to take risks because without them you can’t succeed. The people I’ve met who’ve been successful have all, at some point, taken a risk.”

To grab your audience’s attention, try beginning with something unexpected.

It could be a startling statistic or a quirky/out-there quote related to - or at odds with – your presentation. Maybe it’s an image that says ‘more than words’.

Now you have their attention, let your presence shine through.

Arouse emotion in your audience. To do that, connect with them. Make what you are talking about relate to them: what are their anxieties, goals, interests? Tailor your content to “tickle and soothe” those same fears, aspirations, etc.

Tell a story – take the audience on a journey from the very moment you begin. Hitting them with facts and academia without context and without having got their attention, doesn’t usually work.

On the story telling side of things, make sure all the information you present stays relevant and flows, and vary the pace – pause, slow down, go quicker, stress points. Remember: the pace needs to relate to what you are saying.

Keep it simple and short: have two or three key points you want the audience to leave with and act on or remember. Keep stressing them in various ways.

Try and interact with the audience – get them to jot down points; answer a question to present at the end; stand up and shake their legs, for example.

Compartmentalise your presentation into easy bight-size pieces for your audience to grasp. Clear active headlines “We can win the election” in preference to “Election Strategies”.

These tips are in no-way prescriptive. If you have something that’s worked – we’d love to hear from you.