How to engage the audience in public speaking and presentations

How to easily engage the audience and reduce any first minute anxiety at the same time!

The secret to engaging the audience from the very start of any talk or presentation is to use what I call an "in motion" attention grabbing startThe added benefit is that this will also help reduce any first minute anxiety if you ever suffer with this.

Now, what do I mean by an “in motion” start?

Well, first we need to talk about what happens before your presentation…

Before you speak:

Now, the first thing is, you really want to have it set up so that somebody else introduces you, even if it’s a very brief introduction.

As the presenter, you don’t want to be the one that’s having to get people to take their seats, be quiet and get ready, because you then risk what I call the “hesitation gap”.

The hesitation gap:

All the time you are trying to get control of the audience, it creates a gap, between you taking the stage and starting your presentation in which hesitation can occur.

In this gap you can easily start to feel more and more uncomfortable or to feel like you’ve not got control of the room and to doubt people are paying attention or even want to listen to you.

It’s then a slippery slope to panic and all those dreaded fears about presenting.

So even if it’s just a friend or someone else that gets the audience settled, even if it is just a simple “Okay, can we take our seats now, please, because Mary is about to start?”

They don’t even have to introduce you with a long introduction, but just get people to sit and then say something like, “Okay, now over to Mary.”

If they are not going to introduce you with a formal introduction, that’s fine.

But you really want someone else getting people settled first for you, or if that’s not possible, then you can use what is called a pattern interrupt…


The Pattern Interrupt:

If it’s not possible for someone else to introduce you, then I find it’s good to use what I call a pattern interrupt, which is to say to the audience as soon as you take the stage:

“Okay, everyone. I’ve got good news and bad news,” then you’d have something funny to say beyond that, what the good news or bad news is.

People tend to stop when they hear “good news and bad news”, “Oh, what is it? What is it? What are we going to be told? What’s happened?”

But as I said, best thing is, get somebody else to introduce you, because then you can do this “in motion start”.

The “In Motion” start:

What I mean by this is, if while you are being introduced you are standing off to the side or at the rear of the room you’ve obviously then got to walk, whether it’s 5 steps or 100+ steps, from where you are to where you’re going to present from.

Basically after they have introduced you, if you don’t start talking until you get in position, there’s likely to be a silence, this gap, and I call it the hesitation gap. Usually most people in the “gap” are fiddling with their notes, their laptop while the audience watches and waits in silence…

For instance the person introducing you says, “Here is Mary,” or “Here is Jack,” and then there will be this silence, or maybe the audience clap for a bit, but then there will still be this silence until you get in position during which nobody is speaking at the front of the room.

You’ll probably have to move into position, put your notes down, sort out your water and then go to start.

It’s in that gap between the audience being ready and you starting, that is the hesitation gap.

So what I always do, and I get everybody that I coach and help with public speaking and presentations to do, is to do the “in motion” start.

This means that as soon as they introduce you, as you’re walking up, you want to start with the opening line of your presentation while you’re still walking on the way up.

Now, if the audience do start clapping, then you need to just wait for that to die down slightly, so that you can talk over any noise going on.

This simple technique doesn’t give a gap for the hesitation to occur.

It doesn’t give a gap for the audience to start thinking, and wondering about you or your presentation because you catch them off guard.

You catch them unaware, because they’re probably used to the gap, but you’ve been announced, you start walking, and all of a sudden, you’re talking, and so they’re listening, and they’re engaged.

Of course the real power of when they’re engaged from the start is when you start with something really interesting.iStock_000006015377_Large(2)

You start with either an interesting fact, an interesting story or a question for them to think about, something that captures their imagination.

Now, what I use a lot when I speak is, when the introducer says, “Now, we’re going to hear from Mark Rhodes,” and while there is clapping, I’ll start walking up.

As I’m getting near to the front of the room, at the point where the applause is starting to die down a bit, so I know that I’ll be heard, I’ll just start talking, and will often say:

“You know what I love about speaking? What I love about speaking is it used to be my biggest fear.”

Now, all of a sudden, I’ve got the audience, because they’re thinking:

“Hey, he’s up there speaking. He’s doing a presentation. This used to be his biggest fear. What happened?”

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking is, “Well, that’s all right for Mark. He does these talks. He talks about mindset. That story links really well with mindset. What am I going to do?, it’s easy for him”

Well, you come up with something yourself. You think about your presentation, and you come up with something from your content that’s really, really interesting. And you deliver that at the start, so that it captures their imagination and makes them think.

Here is a real life example from a client

I was helping a lady who is an accountant, and she had a presentation to do to a room of GPs, general practitioners, i.e. doctors.

When I looked at her presentation and her content, I found that her original opening was the typical sort of opening that somebody does in the professions when they do a talk like this, something along the lines of:

”Hi, my name’s Jane. I’m here today to talk to you from XYZ Accountants. We have got offices in town A, town B, and town C, and we’ve been established since 1827,”

…at which point, most of the audience are just disengaged, because it’s the same old boring information, and they’re not really interested in how many offices Jane’s firm’s got or even where they’re based at this stage or when they were formed. They might be interested in that as a bit of credibility later, if they know Jane can do something for them.

So when I looked through the presentation, and I’ve obviously changed the names to protect the not so innocent here, but when we looked through Jane’s presentation, I found that way, way, way down somewhere at the back of the presentation, Jane was saying that they’d helped over 200 GP practices.

I thought, “Wow, that sounds like a good number. That sounds like a very good number.”

I said, “Jane, you need to start with that.”

So when you’re introduced, as you walk up, you want to say:

“Hi, I’m Jane Brown from XYZ Accountants, really pleased to be with you here today. The reason I’m pleased to be here is that over the last couple of years, we’ve helped over 200 GPs to run better practices, make more profit, and enable them to withdraw more drawings from the practice. And I’d like to share some of that with you today.”

Now, with an opening like that, a room of GPs are interested. They’re paying attention.


Here we have an opening statement that has got benefits that are relevant to the audience about what they’re going to learn, and so the audience are interested.

It’s a bit like the difference between me saying, “I am going to do a webinar on public speaking,” which still may get some interest versus, “I’m going to do a webinar on how to deliver presentations without fear that both you and your audience will love.”

It’s a lot more interesting. It’s a lot more compelling. It’s a lot more engaging.

So if I was doing a talk on public speaking, I wouldn’t get up and say,”Hi, I’m Mark Rhodes. I’m going to talk about public speaking.”

I would on the way up just be saying something like:

“So how many here would love to be doing presentations without fear that you and your audience would love to hear?”

That’s going to capture and engage the audience a lot more.

So they key to this is you look for an opening story or an opening comment that’s going to engage them.

Engage them at the start or lose them forever

The whole secret to getting the audience engaged and getting the audience’s attention is you’ve got to do it early on. You’ve got to do it at the very start.

It’s harder to get people engaged if they disengage.

So you’ve got to engage them at the start, and the “in motion” start with a great opening, a great story, an interesting fact or a situation or something like that, something that people are going to be curious about, and want to listen to, and then the audience will think either that’s very intriguing or that’s very relevant to me.

Either of those, and the audience are going be engaged and listen to you.

Whereas if you start with something boring, or you have a major hesitation gap, then what’s going to happen is the audience are likely to disengage before you say your first word or most likely by the end of your first sentence.

Once that happens you are going to have to do an awful lot to turn them around, because once they’ve gone, it’s very hard to pull them back.

So have a great “in motion” start.

An Added Benefit…

An added benefit is we feel less nervous when we are walking than when we are standing still. So starting to present while in motion also helps to reduce any negative feelings, plus knowing what you are starting with is going to engage them makes it so much easier every time.

Even if you don’t think you have anything fantastic to use, I bet you do, you just need to think a little deeper about something amazing, interesting or fascinating you could share with the audience at the start.

Want to improve your Public Speaking?

If you’d like to get better at public speaking or doing presentations that you and your audience love then you can check out this page here on how I help people with all aspects of presentations and public speaking. This could be because you want to reduce the fears or maybe you want to deliver great content, perhaps you want better outcomes from a talk, this could include winning more business, getting more leads or simply getting people to be inspired or take some action you’d like them to talk.

Find out how you can improve your Public Speaking by clicking here…

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Mark Rhodes is a mainstream published author, international speaker, entrepreneur and business mentor. He has been there and done it himself in business and now helps others do the same.

Mark is also proud to be a Millionaire Mentor for the EBA, chosen by Bev James, Founder and MD. The Entrepreneurs Business Academy is a joint venture with BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den Star, James Caan. Mark helps business owners and their teams achieve better results.

He has also been featured in many mainstream publications and magazines. Both of Mark’s mainstream published books have ranked well in the WH Smith Travel Non fiction chart.

The topics Mark covers include Goals, Motivation, Winning More Sales or Clients, Networking, Referrals, Delegation, Time Management and many others.

In 2014 Mark was one of just 6 main stage speakers for the UK’s main sales conference for the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management where typically 600-1000 people pay to attend. Mark also spoke at ExCel in May 2015 at The Business Start up Show.

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