What everyone should know about audience engagement

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

Between the speaker and the audience is a space. It’s the responsibility of the speaker to bridge that space. Public speaking is all about audience engagement.

Let me repeat that. Public speaking is all about audience engagement.

Are they engaged?

I’ve known some speakers to be completely switched off when it comes to their audience. Half the audience could have started clucking like chickens and they wouldn’t have noticed. As speakers, we need to watch our audience to determine if they’re engaged or not. So how do we know if we’re making a connection or not?


Are they fidgeting about, or are they still?

Eye contact

Do they look engaged, or do they appear tired? (Sometimes people can be engaged, but this isn’t reflected on their face. Don’t panic if people’s expressions appear a little ‘blank’!)

Are people looking at you? Or are they looking away? Or at their phones?

One note here: do you have a handout? Is it necessarily a good idea to give it out at the start of the presentation? Sometimes handouts can be a distraction for people. Would it be appropriate to give them your handout at the end rather than the beginning?

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Verbal responses

If you’re asking the audience questions, are they answering? Or are they mostly silent?

Non-verbal cues

Is the audience laughing when you make humorous remarks? Are they nodding in agreement, or responding appropriately when required? Do they mirror your actions when you ask them to raise a hand or carry out some other action?

Watch your audience as you present. They’ll let you know if you’re connecting. If you sense that you’re losing them, you may need to shorten your presentation, or ask the audience to carry out some action to re-engage them e.g. stand up and give your body a shake, say hello to someone in the next row.

Remember, as the speaker, you’re in a leadership position. Don’t be afraid to be a leader and lead the audience in a positive and encompassing way.

When is the best time to engage with the audience?

The best time to engage the audience is from the very beginning! In the first thirty seconds of your speech, try to:

  • ask the audience a question

  • get them to do an action

  • and nod in response to their response

Question, action and response

What type of question should you ask?

  • One that everyone can answer

  • A question where the answer is yes

We want to ask a question that everyone can engage with. We don’t want to start with, ‘Raise your hand if you know the meaning of the word bardolatry.’

How many people do you think will raise their hands? Not many. But what about the question, ‘Raise your hand is you’ve had a mentor who’s changed your life?’

We can all think of someone who has had a positive influence on us.

This method is a great way to engage the audience.

Remember, there’s a space between the speaker and the audience.

Our job is to fill it.