« 8. EQ skills: How to give interesting presentations  »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

Giving a speech or presentation is about engaging an audience. Feeling engaged is an emotion. It is therefore logical to presume that emotional intelligence skills are a key asset to a public speaker.

Having warmth and enthusiasm add interest

It is a wonderful ability to have, to be able to engage an audience, and to be able to have them "on the edge of their seats".

So, how do you engage an audience? There are many skills and techniques involved and many of them require emotional intelligence and EQ skills. 

Out of all the tips and techniques we cover in our advanced presentation skills master-classes, here are five key tips on how to engage an audience.

I have made sure they are not complex or difficult nor requiring great technological feats. In fact, don't make what you do look fancy or difficult, just engage.

One of the best compliments I ever got after a keynote speech at a leadership conference, was from a  member of Lottery West, one of our key sponsors.

She said to me,"I can't work out what you were doing but you had them eating out of your hand, yet you didn't seem to be doing anything". How wonderful. This is the perfect compliment.

If she knew what I was doing I would have been making it too obvious and it would have distracted from my goal of engaging an audience.

If you can't engage an audience why are you presenting? You might as well just give people a written document to read or send them a DVD!

Here are your EQ tips; they may be a good test of your emotional intelligence under the spotlight.

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

EQ skills 1: Vary what you do

It is usually more interesting for an audience if they can't predict the next slide, activity or item of content. Vary what you do.

This means that instead of just standing there talking all the time, you might show them a picture, use a prop, do a demonstration, get them involved, play a video, or run a quiz. Variety is the spice of life and that applies to public speaking.

Props, for example, can evoke curiosity in an audience. Being able to see a piece of working machinery, a model, or a funny costume, for example, may bring sparkle to even the most technical and dry presentation.

One of the interesting aspects of emotional intelligence is that positive emotions have been found, by Barbara Fredrickson and others, to enhance creativity. So if you want to be creative and innovative when you are preparing your speech, create an environment of positive emotions in which to work.

There is a lot about this aspect of emotional intelligence elsewhere on the site and on our DVD on emotional intelligence.

EQ skills 2: Show interesting audio-visuals

Use PowerPoint slides that are interesting for the audience, e.g. a cartoon, followed by bullet points, then a photograph, then a quote, then a statistic, is far more engaging than just a series of bullet points on each slide.

We talk more about PowerPoints in the article, "Why I am angry about death by PowerPoint".

EQ skills 3: Start immediately with something unexpected

Starting a speech or presentation with "Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for having me, the title of my speech is ... " may not be interesting. In fact it can be deadly boring.

You  have only a few moments at the start of any speech to grab your audience's attention, so do something different and compelling.

You might like to try by starting with, for example, a hands-up activity, a quote, a stunning statistic, a poem, a demonstration ... something quick, strong and powerful that relates to your content and audience outcomes.

Always remember engaging an audience is about engaging their emotions, being "interested" is an emotion, feeling engaged is an emotion, feeling enthusiastic is an emotion - what can you do that produces an emotional response from the start?

Again, getting yourself into an emotional space that fosters creativity would be a good use of your emotional intelligence and EQ here.

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

EQ skills 4: Be fully engaged

This is where emotional intelligence becomes crucial - can you be engaged yourself? Can you connect and draw on something deep within yourself, be fully present in each moment and engage with the audience, from speaker to the audience.

Engaging is a two-way process when you are speaking in public. It is not just up to the audience to engage with you and your presentation, you have to be fully present and engaged too. Audiences do not want a cardboard cut-out figure doing a prepared performance, they want a real person with real feelings relating and engaging with them in each moment. This requires a high level of emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management and emotional intelligence.

Engaging an audience is not just about using a few techniques, it is about a shared emotional state. Sorry, I said I would give you simple EQ tips. Well at one level this as, and it is a level public speakers often forget about. 

EQ skills 5: Involve the audience

Humour can bring presentations alive and engage an audience easily. Even the most dry topics can benefit from humour, and even the most serious and senior of audiences can benefit from laughter.

How you produce laughter can vary, and it does not have to involve jokes. Often, I find the audience can produce their own humour.

I remember once having to present to about 300 men (and seven women!) at a conference for the oil and gas sector. Many of them were senior men. The topic, which I am perfectly sure they were not interested in, was gender stereotypes and gender communication differences in the oil and gas industry! 

We just HAD to engage the audience. So what we did was run a quiz with prizes. The prizes were only small chocolates. Two of us, a man and a woman, stood in front of them and the audience members had to guess which one of us did a certain task. For example, which one of us did the washing, which one of us could milk a cow, which one of us was a director of a company, and so on.

(Of course, we mixed up the stereotypes. He did the washing, I was the Director, and we both had milked a cow!)

They all got involved in the competition and it turned out to be hilarious, high energy and high engagement. They wanted to win the chocolates before the other men did! Honestly! Some of them did everything they could to falsify their scores and get the highest score possible.

As we debriefed the quiz and gave the answers we got our points about gender stereotypes and communication across, and kept them engaged for the full 30 minutes. 

I can assure you that showing them an endless array of PowerPoint slides would not have worked.

This of course, all takes courage and creativity - and emotional intelligence.

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.