How not to kill your audience’s engagement stone dead [Welcome to the PACE principles]

Do you think you’d have bothered reading this post if I’d called it this instead:

“Audience engagement and contemporary presentation materials”

Not likely!

This post’s title deliberately uses 4 “keys” to engage you (in just the first 9 words). For a moment, look at the post’s title again. Can you guess what the 4 keys might be? (You probably guessed that their initials make up the acronym PACE.) Well, read on to see how many of the keys you spotted!

(And, for a very pleasant change from so many posts about presenting, this post has nothing to do with bullet points – despite the bullets in the photo above!)

Use the keys throughout your talk

By the way, although this post discusses using the four PACE keys in your title, I recommend you use them throughout your talk. That way, you’ll keep people engaged from start to finish, so your talk will be far more effective. (More on that in part 1, which discusses the P in PACE.)

Let’s compare the post’s title with that other option you saw above, which I’ll call A and B:

  1. “How not to kill your audience’s engagement stone dead”
  2. “Audience engagement and contemporary presentation materials”

Think about the specific differences you notice between those titles. What effect do you think those differences have on how engaging each title is?

OK, time to tell all. The 4 keys ensure that title A is:

  • P – Personal
    Through the word “your”, title A explicitly involves you (the audience). In stark contrast, title B doesn’t mention you at all, so it seems indifferent towards you. (And thanks to human nature, the audience is highly likely to reciprocate!)
  • A – Actionable

    Title B literally makes audiences wonder “What’s happening?”

    Title A focuses on action that the audience might do – the verb “kill”. Conversely, title B focuses on the topic (“engagement”, a noun) and doesn’t use any verbs. Hence, title B literally makes audiences wonder “What’s happening?” (and especially what they’re meant to do – their call-to-action).

    In fact you might even feel that B sounds like a dry, academic paper. That’s because ⅔ of its words are nouns, which really puts people off!

  • C – Conversational
    By using shorter words, title A speaks to you much like you might talk with colleagues. In contrast, title B’s average word length is over 1.8 times longer:
    • Title A has 44 letters in 9 words, or 4.9 letters per word
    • Title B has 54 letters in 6 words, or 9 letters per word

    Half of the words in title B have 4 or more syllables

    In particular, half of the words in title B have 4 or more syllables, which makes them noticeably less conversational. Not only that, but those words occur together (“contemporary presentation materials”), so they’re quite a mouthful. In all, it’s really not the kind of title that rolls off your tongue!

  • E – Emotional
    To add drama, title A uses a metaphor that makes it sound like you’re avoiding murder, and it strongly emphasises a word (“not”), rather than being monotone. What’s more, it uses the redundant words “stone dead” to end the sentence with a bang, for even more drama. Title B, on the other hand, has no emotion – or personality!

    By making the title more emotive, it becomes far more engaging

    My first thought had been to word title A as “How to engage your audience”. That’s not a bad title, because it uses 3 of the 4 keys:

    1. The word “your” to personalize the message
    2. A focus on action
    3. Short, conversational words

    But “How to engage your audience” is pretty dull! So, by making title A more emotive than that, it becomes far more engaging.

I hope those examples help persuade you how helpful using the PACE principles are, to boost your audience’s engagement.

As I mentioned, not only can you use PACE on your talk’s title – as shown in this post – you can use it throughout your talk to engage your listeners. And you’ll see examples of that in part 1, in which you’ll find more on the P in PACE.

So I urge you – remember to make your talks:

P –   Personal
A –   Actionable
C –   Conversational
E –   Emotional


Your turn

  • What’s your first response to the PACE principles?
  • Do you think you might use it in your own talks?


Also check out


6 thoughts on “How not to kill your audience’s engagement stone dead [Welcome to the PACE principles]

  1. Love this idea! I’ve spent most of today reviewing a client’s documents that could certainly use some PACE. It’s a great way to think about headlines, which are so often little more than nouny labels.


  2. I really really hate this blog post.

    I do not like looking down the barrel of a gun even if it’s a photo of one.

    Remove my name from your email list.

    As a kid growing up in the country I was taught never to point a gun at anyone.

    When and how and why does a GUN have anything to do with blog posts, presentations or anything except killing people.


    • Wow – that’s a much stronger response than I expected.

      I don’t think WordPress gives me the option to remove your name from the email list, but there’s an Unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email you get from the blog.

      That’s very wise advice – never to point a gun at anyone. I’d never do that either. (I even wondered how they took the photo.)

      You might be interested to hear that I once gave a talk (in Australia) about gun control. I called it “Thank God You’re Here”, because we’re very lucky our society has so few guns compared with some countries – notably the US of course.

      I imagine you’ll have heard the expression “death by PowerPoint”. In this post, I simply put a different spin on that well-known metaphor.

      I would hope you could ignore the photo and find some usefulness in the tip about making your talks personal, actionable, conversational and emotional. If not, that’s a shame, but I respect your right to choose what you read or don’t read.

      Thanks for subscribing to date, and I’m sorry to see you go.


  3. I like it! I’ve recently learned the “4 U’s” approach to titles – make them Unique, Urgent, Useful, and Ultra-focused, to which I add a fifth “U”: U-focused. Similar ideas. One other great thing I learned from Alun Hill, Udemy coursemeister: the title has only one purpose: to get you to read the first line of the description. I’m sad to say how often I’ve paid little or no attention to my titles. But no more! Thanks!


    • Thanks for your comment, Gary, and for the tip about Alun Hill.
      I’ll look him up!

      I’ve now edited the post to emphasise that you can use PACE throughout your talk, as well as in the title. I’ll publish a later post that shows some examples of that.

      Titles are such an under-estimated part of people’s presentations, so they’re a great place to start!


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