Engage people – give a personal talk [PACE principles, Part 1]

Close-up of a fingerprint

If you’ve seen the previous post in this PACE principles series, you’ll know I showed how you can start to engage an audience before you even speak.

To do that, you can make your talk’s title meet these 4 criteria, so it’s:

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

In this post, you’ll see how to make your whole talk personal – to keep people engaged.

By that I mean using your content to connect with each person in your audience. As people are generally most interested in themselves, one of the best ways you can connect with your audience is to show clearly that you’re focused on them. After you do that, another great way to connect with and therefore engage people is to use genuine emotion.

So, how can you do those things to make your whole talk personal? Well for a start, try these 4 tips, which are arranged roughly from most to least audience-centred:

  • Structure your whole talk around questions or issues your audience is facing. (People love it when you orient your whole talk to what’s top-of-mind for them.)
  • Ask questions, and fully respond to the answers – unlike most speakers! For instance, when speaking online, you might ask people to use the chat box, and when speaking face-to-face, you might use a roving mic to hear from people, or just ask for a show of hands. (If your audience isn’t too big, you can use the first 4 tips from How to rock at webinars, whether you’re speaking online or face-to-face.)
    (You could even ask a few rhetorical questions. I recommend you don’t ask many of those though, because your audience can start to feel frustrated if you don’t mean for them to actually reply!)
  • Use the word “you” often. That deceptively simple technique helps you frame your comments from your listeners’ viewpoint, not yours.
  • To help to connect at a gut level, use genuine emotion in:

Want more ideas to personalise your talk – even to customise it for the specific audience you’re speaking to? Here’s some neat tips, this time from professional speakers:

  • Have a 1-word customisation in mind for one of your stories. Then, during your talk, fill in the word with the name of one of your hosts, or the venue or town, or something distinctive about the event. That time-saving personalisation tip’s from Craig Valentine.
  • Share a story in which you show you’ve made mistakes or suffered setbacks. Because people relate emotionally to mistakes and setbacks, that’s a great way to connect with your listeners personally. Again, the tip’s from Craig Valentine.

Note: If you find personal stories hard (or think they’re misplaced in public speaking), see How can I tell a personal story when I don’t like to talk about myself? It’s superb advice from speaker-coach Denise Graveline. And for more great perspective, also check out The leadership balancing act – professional vs. personal by Kelly Vandever. Even though Kelly’s post is about leadership, she too is a speaker-coach, and her post strongly applies to public speaking as well. Lastly, see this 4-minute video by Kindra Hall, which has 3 tips to help you decide whether to tell a personal story.

  • Compile audience facts and statistics. You can get those from their company’s website, newsletter, or annual report, and by sending your audience a questionnaire. A great tip is to then chart how their answers compare with other people’s. For more details, see Target your audience: 3 ways to win at speaking in public by Karl Walinskas.
  • Cite audience quotes or stories (like “As Mary Jones often says, …”). You can gather those (with permission) by interviewing some audience members when you’re preparing your talk. That’s from 10 ways to customize your presentation by Jeff Paro.
  • Use the organisation’s colours and the event’s theme (such as “Building Blocks of Success”) in your visuals and handouts. You’ll find that and many other great tips in Tailoring a keynote: Making the material connect by Diane Windingland. (If you use PowerPoint’s theme colours feature, you can use the Design tab to change all the colours in your deck in 1 place.)

Over to you

Which of those tips seems most useful for your situation? Please share your views below – I’d love to hear them.

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2 thoughts on “Engage people – give a personal talk [PACE principles, Part 1]

  1. Great tips – thanks. I don’t personally like being “talked at” or talked down to if I’m at a workshop or class myself. If my students feel comfortable enough to contribute their experiences or thoughts in front of the rest of the class then I encourage it and roll with it. It’s where a lot of the great learning happens.


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