How to Keep Your Audience Leaning In

Updated to Speaking on May 3, 2023.

I was speaking to my BOS-Community members this week about the emotional roller coaster your audience goes through. It’s a good thing.

Just like a great movie, you don’t want your audience at a peaked state for long. You also don’t want to go deep and serious for too long. It’s a roller coast that has room for meaningful moments, hilarious high points, and powerful points (not to mention attention-getting alliterations).

Your job is to design a roller coaster so good your audience wants to share it with the world.

Highs and Lows

As I put the final touches on my speech I start to focus on the flow of the presentation. I know my material well enough to know what brings the attention in and what brings the energy up.

Here’s a quick inventory I use.

Attention in – this is when I need everyone to switch gears from what we were talking about to a new subject:

  • Announce a story – we all love a good story and the moment you announce a story, you have their attention.
  • Pause – just like in theatre, a dramatic pause (former presidential speechwriter, James Humes, calls this the “strategic delay”) will always bring the attention back to the stage and to you.
  • Dramatic slide – not the best, but (this works even better if you go to black between slides) a dramatic slide can work to get the audience to lean in.
  • Summarize – if I have time, I summarize my speech before I start my close – it also pulls the audience in.

Energy up – this is when I need to introduce some levity, or entertainment, as a break or to anchor a lesson to make it more memorable:

  • Tell a story with a punch line – hands down, story telling is an essential skill for any speaker.
  • Initiate an audience activity – a well-timed peer-to-peer coaching session is a wonderful way to take your lesson deeper and bring the energy up.
  • Show a short/funny video – don’t overdo this, but a 60-90 second video that is guaranteed to get a laugh and is relevant can bring the energy up.
  • Mini theatre – I’m no actor, but it’s a lot more memorable when I act out someone showing up for work and getting overwhelmed with distractions compared to just showing a slide full of statistics.

You might be the most brilliant [fill in the blank], but if your audience isn’t leaning in and relating to you and your message, it’s all background noise. When you match a great message with a roller coaster of emotion, now you have a winning combination.