Public Speaking and Storytelling: 7 Tips for Greater Audience Engagement

Are you about to speak in public at an event? You might want to deliver an after-dinner speech and not appear foolish. Or, perhaps you are due to tell a story to an audience or inform people about your business. No matter where you talk, you hope to engage spectators and create an excellent impression. The following seven tips show you how.

Involve the audience

It's crucial to connect with spectators the minute you arrive on stage. If you don't, you could ruin your speech, so involve the crowd straight away and get them on your side.

Acknowledge the audience by talking to them rather than at them. Refer to them as though you know them--some actors pretend they are communicating with their best friend to help them appear warm and open.

Comedians typically connect with a home-crowd by referring to their location. The best anchoring link though involves audience participation.

Encourage spectators to interact with you. Ask for a show of hands in reply to a question or invite them to clap or whistle if they agree with a statement. They will automatically find you engaging when they collaborate with you,

Use a metaphor

The human mind loves stories with metaphors, so describe one thing to symbolize another when you've connected with an audience. Martin Luther King used several metaphors in his "I Have a Dream" speech including "a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" and "the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

Metaphors are--and here comes another one--music to ears. They need not be sophisticated though. Simplicity is effective as long as the audience relates to what you say.

Illustrate a point

Illustrate the point you want the metaphor to make. For example, "the best marriages often begin when couples know their partner is the one in an instant." Alternatively, you can start with the point you want to get across and then bring in an associated metaphor.

Stay in the moment

Keep the audience in the moment. If you're describing a groom slipping on a banana skin, talk in the present tense. "He walks along cheerfully and his foot slides," instead of "he slipped."

Even when you report a past incident, switch to the present tense as soon as possible. Follow "I remember talking to my uncle" with a description of the conversation as though it's occurring now.

Embody the story

Get physically involved using body language. Act as if you are a playing the part of characters, using gestures to express emotion. Going back to the banana and groom story, you might say "he's walking along merrily, and then"--at this point look at your feet, scoot one foot in front of the other, and shriek as though you're slipping.

Deliver the nugget

Use present-moment language and non-verbal communication when you deliver the nugget, or big idea you want the public to take away. If you talk about a serious subject, show vulnerability.

Breathe like you would if you were living the story, giving a moment-by-moment account. Also, pause, speak slowly and use a downward inflection at the end of sentences that aren't questions to strengthen your message.

End with a story

End by alluding to the metaphor you used at the start of your talk to round off the story. A new reference may be made about the future rather than harking backwards.

Good speeches have an opening, middle, and finale. An ending with a story to remember that summarises the talk or leaves a question in people's minds is ideal.

Talks come alive when the storyteller illustrates the tale, but first, he/she must connect with the audience by involving them.

Note the tips mentioned, and you will engage with spectators when you speak in public and appear professional.