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How to compel your audience to listen to your every word

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The Engaging Presenter Part I
This is a guest article by Michael Brown.


Yes. It’s not hyperbole. You really can make the audience pay close attention and they won’t know why they’re doing it – they’ll just think you’re an interesting speaker. It’s subtle. It’s almost laughably simple. The outstanding speakers all do it, many instinctively without knowing what is really attracting their audience’s attention.

It works for everything from small meetings to conferences.


1. What to do and what the audience must see

As you speak, show your audience you’re interested in their reaction to your words. Your audience must see your eyebrows rise and wrinkles appear on your forehead – as happens normally when you ask someone a question. That expression says, How’s this going down with you? And to best convey that elemental visual inquiry, you seek out eye contact, moving with a slight sense of urgency.

Just one caution: only your expression carries that inquiry – not your tone – that must still have the authority of a statement. When you speak with authority, your tone typically drops at the end of the phrase or sentence.


2. Why does it work? 

That visual inquiry signal zips right into the subconscious minds of the people in front of you, satisfying the deep human need, I want whoever talks to me to be interested in me.

Yes, we do admire performing speakers with the attributes of confidence, conviction and personal authority, but we are also – compelled by our subconscious – powerfully drawn to speakers who show interest in us.  Which is another way of saying that they truly engage with us.


3. Check it out first

At first it might feel weird. So for full safety, try it out in front of the bathroom mirror. Ask your image a question like, “Did you enjoy the movie?”, arranging your expression to show that you’re interested in the answer. See the eyebrows rise and the wrinkles appear in your forehead?  Now, still with the mirror, adopt the same inquiring expression when you’re making a firm statement, “We tried several systems, but in the end the most reliable was the Jones methodology.” Make sure your tone drops at the full stop. Authority. Certainty. If it rises, that signals uncertainty. It’s called rising terminal inflection – a speaking malady I’ll get to in another blog.

Then try it out on a friend or a few colleagues. Don’t mention specifics like eyebrows and wrinkles. Just tell them you’re trying out a theory about speaking. Choose your topic, then give them a comparison with two 20 second versions. In version one, speak as well as you can, but keep your eyebrows at normal level. In version two raise your eyebrows as you look around, seeking people out with that touch of visual inquiry, How’s this going down with you?

Ask them which was better and you should be pleasantly surprised by the feedback. Also, ask them if they spotted what you were doing differently in the second version.

By now, you should have convinced your own brain that it’s worth the risk of carrying out this new behaviour. So go and do it to a real audience, and reap the reward.


4. The best news

Deliberately showing interest in your audience also helps overcome stage fright – even if you’re just pretending, just acting interested. Your body can change your mind. Ultimately, of course, you’ll want to make it real. For me, showing interest in the audience has been a wonderful discovery.

Discover it for yourself. Have fun.


About the author: Michael Brown has run hundreds of intensive training workshops on presentation and media skills. He wrote The Engaging Presenter (Parts I, II, and III) which is available on Bookboon. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Engaging Presenter Part I