Presentation Skills Tip: To Keep Your Audiences Engaged, “You-nify” Your Presentations

Eleni Kelakos presentation skills training, public speaking training, speech coaching

As a presentation skills coach and trainer, one of the most common questions I get asked is “How do I keep my audience engaged?” 

There are, of course, multiple answers to that question (which I’ve written about here and here and here). But one of my favorite responses and techniques is also one of the simplest: “You-nify” your presentation.  By that I mean, say “you” more.

Say the word you more than you say the word I.

Say you more, so your audience members can see (and feel) themselves in the story you’re telling, the scenario you’re sharing, or in the lessons you’re revealing.  Because the more your presentation is about you and not your audience, the less the folks you’re speaking to can connect with you. And the less your audience connects with you, the less engaged they’ll be.  

I was recently reminded about the value of you-nifying your presentation when I went to a breakout session at a professional conference. The session was supposed to be about how to use social media to help drive business. Instead, the session was more about how the speaker—a social media darling—had used social media to better his business. The speaker spent the first half of his allotted time essentially telling stories about his success. There were more I’s in his presentation than a potato gone to seed. I have no idea what the speaker talked about in the second half of the session, because I lost my patience, stood up and walked out. In the hallway

outside the session, I ran into a colleague who had also left room. “I kept waiting for the speaker to bring the audience into the loop, but it never happened. It was all about him,” she said, clearly disgusted. She was right. The speaker barraged us with I-I-I’s and me-me-me’s; he did absolutely nothing to help connect us to his personal and professional experiences. And as a result, he lost his audience (both literally and metaphorically).

The fact is, when it comes to speaking to an audience, you are not there to yammer on about yourself, even if your self is pretty darn interesting; You’re there be of value and service to the folks in the seats.  

Now, I’m not saying that talking about yourself when you’re in front of an audience is inherently a bad thing. You do, after all, have a unique perspective– not to mention wisdom, expertise and stories—that could potentially be of real value when shared with others. What I am saying, is that talking about yourself without making an effort to build a bridge between you and your audience members so they can connect with you and your message is the antithesis of what you’re there to do as a speaker.

That’s why you need to say you more.

Saying you more builds more bridges.

Saying you more takes the focus off you and puts the focus on the audience, where it should be.

Saying you more gets your audience to think about what you’re saying as it relates to them. The more they can relate to what your saying, the more interested they’ll be in listening to it.

With that in mind, here are three simple ways to “You-nify” your next presentation:

1.Use more “Turnarounds”: If you have ever attended my storytelling training, or my pitching workshop, you know that I believe that telling a compelling personal story is a deeply effective way to illuminate a point. But it is even more effective when you “you-nify” the story by adding what I call a turnaround at the story’s close.  A turnaround is when you shift the focus from your perspective to the audience’s perspective, so that the audience has a chance to reflect upon how the story (or point of the story) relates to them.  One of the best ways to do this is to ask the audience to ponder a question or two: “What about you?” you might ask, “Have you ever experienced something like that? What do you know about __________?  How might you or your business be changed for the better if you chose to _________ instead of _________?”

2. Add You’s in strategic places while telling a personal story. I’ve been doing this lately when telling the opening story of my Perform at Your Peak leadership keynote.  I start like this: “I’m 24 years old, living in NYC, and just starting out on my path as a professional actress and singer, when I book the biggest gig of my young life:  Singing the national anthem at Shea Stadium, in front 34,000 Mets fans!  34,000 people!  Wow!” Then I pause for a moment, look at my audience and say “Can you imagine what that feels like, to stand in a stadium and have 34,000 people looking at you? 34,000 people! That’s a lot of eyeballs, right?”    At that moment, the members of the audience invariably lean in, nodding and smiling, more invested than ever in the story I’m telling. Because by simply saying “you,” I’ve now made the audience a part of my story—they’re experiencing it along with me, which makes them more engaged.

3. Turn We’s into You’s.  It’s infinitely more effective (and personal) to say you rather than saying using the royal “we.” For example, in my Touch the Sky musical motivational keynote, I use the catch-phrase “When you shrink to fit, you take a hit.”  By choosing to say you instead of instead of we (“When we shrink to fit, we take a hit”) I speak much more directly to my audience, which drives my point home more viscerally.  Here’s another example: I often end my Perform at Your Peak or Take the Stage keynote presentations with these words: You matter. Your voice matters. Use your words to change your world… which has more punch and power than “We matter. Our voices matter. Let’s use our voices to change our world!”

Keeping your audience involved and interested from the start to the end of your speech is both your responsibility as a speaker and an ever-unfolding challenge. Rise to that challenge by you-nifying your presentations, so you can increase your audience engagement and deliver a more moving, memorable message.