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How to Engage the Audience When Speaking to a Crowd

For some, giving a speech can be enough to make the gut churn. However, even those who go pale at the mere suggestion of public speaking can become incredibly engaging speech givers.

Whether you are doing it for the first time or just don’t know what you are doing wrong, there are a number of steps you can take to keep your audience interested and attentive.

  1. Know what you’re saying

If you ever watch President Barack Obama give a speech in front of thousands of people, observe how frequently (or infrequently) he looks at the notes in front of him. Reading your speech directly from a script is a quick way to disengage your audience and lose any gravitas you had from the beginning. Know your speech in a way that you can continue on even if you lose your place.

  1. Don’t rush

It’s common to speed up your speech if you’re nervous. Even if it feels unnatural, make an effort to speak slowly and clearly; if you think you’re rushing, take a deep breath and look out over the audience before continuing. Post Office Telecoms commissioned a study that found an ideal voice uses no more than 164 words per minute with gaps of 0.48 seconds before the start of a new sentence.

  1. Keep your feet planted

Especially if you haven’t mastered the art of using the full stage, keep your feet shoulder width apart and keep them firmly in place. Many speeches of great substance are ruined by the nervous, distracting movement of the speaker’s feet. Fidgeting, rocking and box-stepping are all common symptoms of an anxious public speaker, and it can demonstrate a lack of confidence to the audience. The only thing you want the audience to take from the speech is your message and ideas, not your shuffling feet.

  1. Get your hands involved

Public speaking is like telling a story, and great storytellers would struggle to reach their full potential if made to sit on their hands. When making a point, accentuate it with a sharp gesture. If an idea flows on into another, use your hands to flow along with it. It might feel unnatural, but practice in front of the mirror or ask for feedback from a friend and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Using your hands can often be the difference between a good and a great speech.

  1. Speak with inflections

Remember Darth Vader from Star Wars? Vogons from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Daleks from Doctor Who? All iconic villains, but not exactly the best voices for public speaking. When practicing your speech, make sure your voice isn’t too monotonous and that your sentences sound different from one another. Adjust your voice to be high and low to go along with what you’re saying.

  1. Make eye contact with the audience

Looking at the faces in the crowd can be nerve-wracking, but find a few friendly faces spaced around the crowd and make brief eye contact with them before moving on to the next. This helps stop you from looking down or in the one spot for the duration of your speech.

Learning from experience is one of the best ways to improve in terms of public speaking, but these steps can help you start with the right habits and deliver an engaging speech.

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