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3 Powerful and Effective Ways to Better Engage Your Audience

Better engagement means better outcomes

As a speaker and trainer, I am often asked what is the best way to engage an audience. My first response is typically to ask the person who asked the question, "Well, what engages YOU when someone else is talking?"

In this instance, the asker is honestly interested in finding ways to be more interesting so that others listen to him. That tells me two things right off the bat: one, he currently may not think that he is very engaging and, two, he thinks that there is some "skill" involved in learning HOW to be engaging.


While truly engaging speakers (or salespeople or bosses or leaders or parents or teachers) do have the skill of being able to captivate their listener, understanding how to acquire that skill is not as difficult as you may think.

As a matter of fact, like many other things in your life, you are probably over-thinking it. A great place to start is to think about what engages (or repels) YOU when others are talking. After all, we spend most of our lives as "audience members." We are not always the ones "up in front of the room." So, what gets your attention and what holds it?

That is a good starting place. But after that, your attention needs to turn to the person or people to whom you are speaking. What gets THEIR attention...and what holds it? What do you know about them? What will turn them off quickly? When you think about this, it is not really difficult to come up with some helpful answers. Many of those answers will be the same as the ones you came up with for yourself.

Beyond that, there are some good rules of thumb that can help you make sure you give yourself the best chance for a positive outcome when wanting to get and keep your audience engaged.

Whether you are having a conversation with one person, speaking to a group of a dozen people, or keynoting to an auditorium of 1,000, here are three ways to better engage your audience:

1. Involve them in the conversation

If you are ever in "presentation mode," you are not engaging. Just know that. If you are focused on a script in your head, you are not focused on the person to whom you are talking. It is impossible to be engaging while you are worrying about your next word, next agenda item, or perfectly stating that fact that you are convinced will make them take action on something.

One of the most powerful and impactful ways to engage is to simply have a conversation. When you "present," your audience feels like they are in a fourth grade classroom. You are teaching them while they are trying to stay awake. You see (and probably experience) this all the time. It is not very effective. When you present, you deprive them of the opportunity to think.

However, when you have a conversation with them, you facilitate their learning.

You know the difference between these two approaches...think about it...which of these approaches is more effective:

Approach #1 - You want to learn how to swing a golf club well. You sign up for a lesson and the "teacher" starts you off by handing you a club and beginning to adjust you. They move your feet around and tell you to hold your hands a certain way, they adjust your overall balance and then tell you to keep your head down and your eye on the ball and your weight evenly distributed and your grip loose, but firm and your knuckles lined up and your feet pointed forward and your shoulders loose and your stance open and centered up with the ball and your knees slightly bent. that you are incredibly uncomfortable, they ask you to swing. It feels awkward and you spend the rest of the lesson trying to "get used to it." In the mean time, you probably are not hitting the ball very effectively.


Approach #2 - You want to learn how to swing a golf club well. You sign up for a lesson and the "teacher" starts you off by handing you a club and simply asking you to swing. You swing in a way that is comfortable to you. They say, "Good job. How did that feel?" You tell them it felt comfortable, but maybe you felt a little off-balance. They tell you that is a good observation you had and offer a suggestion to help you feel more balanced.


Maybe they suggest that you widen your stance a little and feel more grounded before you swing. They then ask you to swing. You swing. They ask, "So, how did that feel?" You respond by saying it felt better; you felt more grounded and in control. They say, "Great. What else are you noticing?" You say that you noticed you took your eye off the ball.


They suggest that you get grounded again, swing, and see if you can watch the club actually hit the ball this time. You do and you are already hitting the ball more solidly and farther than you ever have before.

Do you see the difference? If you just tell them what to do, you miss the opportunity to allow them to discover what to do. It does not take any more time to do it the second way, but you will be much more effective with the outcome and more engaging in the process.

Why? Because you did not just "teach," you let them learn.

2. Go where they need you to go

Learn your script and then throw it out! When I say "learn your script," understand that I am not advocating memorization. You should know your stuff, but it should not sound the same every time it comes out of your mouth. If you talk the same way to every person or audience you speak to, you are not engaging them; you may actually be dis-engaging them! You are also probably missing a ton of opportunities.


When you walk in with your agenda and are unable to be flexible in the conversation, it is not about is all about YOU.


Here's a secret...nobody cares about YOU.


OK, I do not mean that to sound as harsh as it might have. However, if you want to engage people, make it all about THEM. What can make them happier, healthier, more productive, more efficient? What can THEY do with the information you give them?


If you do not tell your audience what is in it for them, they will tune out quickly.


You can tell them using a story or example. But if you go in and tell someone why YOU are great and how much YOU know and what YOUR experience is, YOU will lose them quickly. Those are all things that may be helpful, however, let those things come out at appropriate times. Let those things come out organically within a conversation or to enhance a point you have made by sharing a personal experience. "I've been where you are" is an incredibly powerful statement to be able to make...but you need to make sure you know 'where they are' before you can make it with any impact. Start with asking them about what their thoughts are, why they wanted to meet with you or agreed to meet when you asked.


People do not let you waste their time today.


If they wanted to talk with you or agreed to meet with you, they are interested in learning about something...find out what that something is and start there. When you begin with them, you allow them to engage right off the bat.

3. Be done talking before they are done listening

This is one of the most effective ways to engage an audience. All too often, when we know a lot about our subject matter or we are really passionate about it or have a whole bunch of great research we want to share to make our point or convince someone to take action, we tend to "info-dump."

"Info-dumping" is when we try to fit EVERYTHING we want to tell them into our talk/conversation/meeting. The human brain is not meant to take in information in that way. That is exactly why, the more you say, the less they will remember. When you give them too much, even if it is all great stuff, you risk what is relevant to them getting lost.

Instead, know that you can use one or two stories or examples or data points to allow them to understand completely what you are talking about. Enough to give them a clear picture and something they can apply to their situation right now. If you give them too much more, chances are they will tune out and start making their grocery list in their heads.

What do THEY need to hear right now that effects THEM? THAT is what you share.

You can always give them more information. That is worth can always give them more information. However, once you "info-dump," you cannot give them less. Once they have tuned out, it is going to be more difficult to get them back; and, if you do get them back, they have missed what you just said.

Start with a clear and concise message. Expand only as THEY need you to expand. Not only does this allow them to hear and process what you are saying, but it also gives them the ability to come back to you to get more.

You do not have to address everything at one sitting. What you DO need to do in that one sitting (sometimes in order to get a second sitting or to get them to go to your website or buy your book or take your course) is to listen to what they need in that moment and give it to them...not seven other things...but the one thing that helps them accomplish what they want to in that moment that they can apply NOW.

You will become a "go to" with this approach. It also helps you to be seen as an authentic and credible provider of information. In other words, are you trying to sell them something ("pushing") or are you trying to help them get clear on what they do and do not need in this moment and offer them solutions they see a value in applying ("pulling").

Engagement is all about them. When you let people experience your value through their experience instead of yours, you resonate with them on a higher level. When you involve them, you attract them. When you involve them, you capture them. When you involve them, you are more engaging.

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