One of the primary challenges of any public speaker is keeping the audience engaged with their speech. If you’re able to invoke curiosity continuously throughout your speech, then you are miles ahead of most speakers.
If you’ve ever seen a video by the popular YouTube science guy Vsauce, you know how powerful curiosity can be. (Also, take note of how wild he is with his intonation and face expressions—it keeps people listening.)
Ways to keep the audience engaged
The first and most obvious way to keep people engaged and curious is with stories.
Although most people who want to prove a point try to use statistics or logical arguments, sometimes an anecdote is more effective. If you want to learn more and see the scientific reasoning behind using stories, read this article and this article.
In short, it’s more effective to tell a story that illustrates the impact of what you’re talking about than to tell people that your subject is important. If you were talking about the homeless situation in the US, for example, you might give a heart-wrenching story of a little boy without a home before talking about the statistics.
The second way is with a compelling voice. You’ve always been told not to use a monotone voice in speeches, and that’s great advice.
You can keep people engaged with just the tone of your voice. When stating a fact that is particularly interesting, try bringing your pitch up a notch. Don’t do it for long phrases, just a couple words at a time—and only on the important words.
This is why news anchors talk the way they do: they are varying their vocal range in order to make the news more interesting for viewers. It’s only annoying if you really think about it. Of course, you should not speak that way in a regular speech, because it’s taking vocal intonation to the extreme.
My third tip, however, is one that you probably haven’t thought of before. Use specific phrases to create curiosity. Here are a few.
- What’s interesting about this is…
- But why is that? Well…
- Do you want to know a secret about…
- You may be a bit confused at this point, but allow me to explain with an analogy…
- You’d be surprised that…
- This is the point that convinced me I was wrong…
- But there’s one piece of the puzzle missing…
- Do you want to know why?
- You might have already guessed it in your head…
I could come up with many more, but I think you get the point. Phrases like this, with a bit of added intonation, makes the audience lean forward in their seats.
My fourth tip is to confuse the audience purposefully.
I sometimes make a surprising, shocking, or confusing statement that is contrary to popular belief in order to keep the audience focused. (By the way, I just used the same technique on you.)
The most simple way of doing this is to agree to an argument that opposes your view, pause, then add a twist. “Some people say that [thing you don’t agree with], and you know what? I absolutely agree. That’s true. I agree because it actually proves my point…”.
This is especially useful if the popular belief you are combating is a contradiction.
My fifth and final tip is something I got from another website: be the teacher when you speak.
Here’s a link to the post I got it from. Thanks, Daniel Gaskell! (Note: that article is specifically about debate, but it applies to speaking in general).
People are naturally curious and want to learn, especially if you have something interesting to teach them. If you teach them something interesting, you will earn their respect and they will stay engaged. Talking to them about stuff they already know will easily get them bored unless you have humor or some other redeeming quality in your speech.
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