Six Ways to Appeal to an Audience

How to keep an audience of one or a hundred listening.

Posted May 17, 2017

Public speaking can be learned with practice, though there are some who are more gifted than others in this domain. Here are some tips learned over long years of standing up in public to read and talk about my books and teaching, or simply amusing people at the dinner table.

1. It is a good idea to start with a humorous anecdote which will put both you and the audience at ease. Make them laugh. Tell them something self-deprecating that might make them feel you are not stuck up or superior in any way. You are like them, struggling with the same problems, the same difficulties. 

2. At the same time it is important not to underestimate what you have to say. Don't run yourself down needlessly. Don't apologize. Your audience wants to feel it is worth listening to what you have to say. They want to identify with someone of worth, someone who has information which they might profit from in some way.

3. Voice your argument with conviction and clarity. Tell the audience what you are going to say and then say it: one, two, three. Tell them how long you will be speaking and that you will have a question period at the end. You want to hear from them and are interested in what they have to say on the subject. Engage them,  and perhaps even invite them to interrupt if they wish to. Briefly give the pros and cons to your argument and then sum up: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. If you are going to read from your work tell them how many pages you will read or how long it will take.

4. Don't be afraid to inform, to give facts. People do actually want to learn new facts, new figures, to be surprised by an original point of view, something that might go against common wisdom. They are interested by any special information you might have, particularly if it is stated clearly and succinctly. Don't speak too fast. Don't talk down to your audience whatever age they might be. 

5. Stick to your thesis and don't let your arguments stray too far from your main point. Think of your talk like a river flowing into the sea with a few tributaries perhaps adding to the flow of the water.

6. Be gracious and thankful to your audience for coming out to hear you and for listening. Listen carefully to their questions, praise their ideas or interest, and smile often! Start out smiling and end with a smile! 

Sheila Kohler is the author most recently of a memoir: "Once we were sisters" published by Penguin.