Knowing your audience as a public speaker is crucial

Category Archives: Audience

Getting closer to your audience in Storytelling

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Category : Audience , Storytelling

An important element in public speaking as well as in storytelling is to get close to your audience. The closer you get, the more powerful your story.

This video is part of the Storytelling Class on Speak with Persuasion. In this video I talk about the steps that get you closer to your audience. Take these steps before writing anything!

Want to know more about the course? Check it out on the website! There are a lot more videos there. You will get a step by step guidance to creating and finding the best stories to connect with your audience!

How to keep your audience attention

I recently sat in a presentation with a friend of mine next to me. After the talk, I asked my friend what he thought of the presentation.

“To be honest,” he said, “I got distracted halfway through and couldn’t get back on track after. So I missed most.”

It happens to all of us. We get distracted easy. For a speaker, that means it is crucial to put elements into their presentations that will prevent that from happening.

How do you make your speech unpredictable and your audience engaged?

You want to keep your audience attention. But how? By adding in unpredictable elements to your speech. Elements that will keep your audience on their toes.

Which elements are that? Here are five.

(Bold) Statements

“You all think smoking kills? Let me tell you something. Do you know that the amount of people dying from diabetes are three times as many people as dying from smoking?”

It’s how Mohammed Qahtani, 2015 World Champion Public Speaking, starts his talk ‘The Power of Words’. The statement wasn’t correct, but that wasn’t what mattered. He got what he wanted: the attention of the audience. And a chance to explain his point.

Statements and especially bold statements are a great attention grabber. You trigger people to listen to you. They want to hear how you are going to prove your statement.

Qahtani was quite extreme in his statement. You don’t have to go that far. But you can still trigger. When pitching you could, for example, say something like “We are better than Apple”.

The important part: you’ll have to prove your statement after!

Being funny

A second way to get and keep the attention of your audience is to be funny. Make your audience smile and they will love you for it. Being funny is a great way to do that.

At the same time, being funny is tricky. Be careful here. Not everybody has the same humour. And you have to know the difference between being funny and telling a joke.

When it comes to being funny, timing is everything. And not too much. A funny story can help, but it has to be relatable to the topic of your talk! A good idea is to keep it personal and not insult your audience.

It is a great way to keep the attention. But as said, be careful, not everything is considered funny.

Tell a great story

We know that people are hardwired to listen to stories. When done well, telling stories is one of the most powerful tools in a presentation. A story keeps attention because people want to hear what comes next.

Telling a short story in your presentation can do wonders for the attention. What you want to do is connect the stories to the content of your talk. In other words: make it relevant.

I often use stories in my presentations. The stories can be about my kids, about anything. But I always make sure they connect to the topic of the talk.

Give them bold or surprising statistics

“According to Comscore, 25% of internet users have an ad blocker installed.”

It’s a sentence from one of my presentations. These statistics are staggering. It will make people think. “That’s a lot!” (or in some cases “that’s not much!”. Whenever I use statistics like these, I can see people look up, take pictures or write them down.

I have their attention at that point. Statistics do that. But like with the stories and fun stuff, it has to be relevant and at least a little bit bold. Telling your audience 100% of people drink water won’t help much.

Your slide design

The last way to get and keep attention is your slide design. We all know ‘death by PowerPoint’. Too many bullets will kill your presentation.

A great design will keep people focused. This can be the use of the right colours, but also usage of the right images.

Personally, I use a lot of animated gifs. These to me are like the pictures used in Harry Potter movies. They come to life.

It’s all about relevance

With all the things you can do to keep the attention, one thing is important: it has to be relevant. It has to make sense.

To conclude, I’d like to share my favourite gif to use in presentations. Here’s why I use this gif: it’s funny, it’s relevant and it tells a story. I use it to explain how we should always be looking beyond the obvious because that’s where the real gold lies.

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Closing Speaker? Make Being the Last of the Day Work for You!

Being the last speaker at an event can be daunting for speakers. But there are actually some big opportunities. Make being the last speaker work for you!

Some call it the ‘graveyard shift’. If you are the last speaker at the conference. It’s not a strange remark. After all. If you are the last one at the conferences, chances are the room is half empty. A part of the attendees will have gone home. Another part will be in the pub or trying to get early drinks at the networking. Those that are there are also after a long day listening to speeches.

It’s something many conference organisers struggle with. Who to put last. What to do with the networking. You want people to stick around and you want people to attend the networking as well. So actually the last session is important. It’s why some organisers have decided to end the day with a big keynote. To keep people there.

What if you are the last speaker?

So what if you are the last speaker? Is that a lost cause? Are you better off letting them get to the drinks?

On the contrary!

Being the last speaker actually, gives you big opportunities. Yes, some of the audience may have already left. But those that are still there are the ones interested.

They WANT to hear you speak. The group might be smaller than earlier, you might be able to get much more out of them! Since you are the last one, this is your chance to leave them with a big impression.

Your message is what they walk away with. Your message is the first thing they will remember the next day at the office.

To do this, though, you have to do the right things. It’s very easy to lose that audience and instead of making a good last impression. If you fail, they will never pay attention to you ever again. But if you succeed, you are the big winner.

One thing you need to remember when you are the closing speaker: you are not only delivering a talk. You are closing the conference. The way you send them away determines for a big part how they feel about the conference.

Let’s look at a few things you should and should not do when you are the last speaker.

Photo: AP

Here are the do’s and don’ts:


  • Emphasise the empty room
  • Say ‘between you and drinks’
  • Be boring


  • Start off with a bang
  • Keep it short and crisp
  • Give them something to talk about
  • Give them something special
  • Save a story

Let’s dive into them!

Things you shouldn’t do as closing speaker

There are some things you should stay away from when you are up last. For the simple reason that if you talk about these things, you will lose the attention. Sometimes even before you start.

Don’t emphasise the empty room

You want to avoid talking about the fact that people have left. Even though you mean well. The wrong emphasis on how they stuck around will make them feel less important rather than more. It hurts both you as the audience. You are showing how insecure you are. At the same time, you can make the audience feel like they are the ‘losers’ that stayed. You are telling them it’s ok to leave and perhaps even give them the idea to go.

I’ve seen it happen more than once. Whenever speakers said this, a few more people got up and left.

Don’t say ‘between you and drinks’

“All that stands between you and drinks is me” Or a variation of the sentence. “You’ll get your coffee after you’ve listened to me”.

I can’t count the number of times I heard a speaker say this. I know I’ve said it. I now know I shouldn’t have.

You are telling them it’s you that makes they can’t have coffee or drinks now. That makes you a ‘hurdle’. They now feel they have to wait. Instead of getting excited, they will feel they have to work.

Don’t be boring

Of course, you never want to be boring. But in the case of speaking last, it’s extra important to keep their attention. And you need to grab it within the first seven minutes of the talk. In this time frame, people subconsciously decide if they like you and the talk or not. Being boring in that time frame will kill your talk.

What to do when you are the last speaker

We know it’s easy to screw up. But how to make it work for you? You need to stand out! Here are a few things you could consider and work on.

Start off with a bang

Since you know the first seven minutes are crucial, this is where you want to make the biggest impact. So instead of talking about who you are and about your business, why not start with a bang?

You can start with a bang in different ways. A bold statement for example. Something controversial. The World Champion Public Speaking 2015, Mohammed Qahtani, does this well in his winning talk. Watch his opening:

What he does here is controversial and smart. It’s not only surprising, it serves a goal as well. He’s making a point with it.

But you don’t have to be that controversial if you don’t want to. You could start with a personal story (storytelling captivates). Or you could start with a video. There are many ways to get that attention and wake them up.

Keep it short and crisp

You don’t want to be boring, so you have to make sure you are short and crisp. People are tired, so they absorb less. That means your presentation has to be to the point. And make it short(er) than you otherwise would. You want to send them away before they get tired of you.

Give them something to talk about

If you are the last speaker, you have the chance to give them something to talk about during the break or drinks. An opening like the above-mentioned one would be something they would talk about. But a great tear-jerking video also can do the trick.

Key is to find one thing that is “different”. One thing they will remember. Best would be to have a small exercise or game they can play during the break. Make sure you tell them to do it afterwards and share with you how it went. They will have another reason to talk to you.

Here’s an example when talking about persuasion:

“Try this when you are having drinks later on: nodding your head while asking a question will make the other person more inclined to agree with you. “Don’t you think X, Y, Z is right?” while nodding, most people will agree.”

Then after the session, go and watch people try this. It will be fun!

Give them something special, only for attendees

A nice way of bonding with your audience is to give them something. Give away something that is for attendees only. Tell them not to give it away to anyone else. This could be a free subscription for example. Or a code to get a free coffee at Starbucks.

You giving them something will make them first like you, second feel they ‘owe’ you. And, they will feel part of a special group. Which bonds them. Again, this will make that they will remember you best.

Don’t give it all away: “Save” a story

Finally, one that fits perfect in a last talk of the day. If you are the closing speaker, don’t give it all away. Have one story ready you can tell after the session, during drinks.

Tell people you have one more story, but you are out of time. You want them to get to the drinks. Let them know that if they want to hear the story, they should come up to you during drinks.

If they like you and have enjoyed your presentation, they will come up to you afterwards. You will then have another ‘connection’ with them. They will remember you for not only your talk but for the conversation afterwards as well.

Conclusion: bond!

So that’s it. These are things you should and should not do when you are the closing speaker at a conference. To wrap it up:


  • Emphasise the empty room
  • Say ‘between you and drinks’
  • Be boring


  • Start off with a bang
  • Keep it short and crisp
  • Give them something to talk about
  • Give them something special
  • Save a story

All these things come together in one thing: bonding. Try to bond with your audience. That way, after your talk, you will be the one they think about and talk to!

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8 Ways to Get a Connection with your Audience

Every speaker wants a good ‘connection’ with the audience. In some cases, that can be quite hard. Not all audiences are the same. And some audiences, you have to ‘convince’. Wouldn’t it be great if your audience would listen engaged to every word you had to say? It’s possible.

There are a few ways to connect to your audience. Some are easy. And your audience will feel closer to you, without you being too obvious about it.

1. Respond to what you see

Many speakers are very self-focused when they are on stage. Most of the time, this is not intentional. But speakers want to do a good job. So they focus on the job they feel is most important: the words and the slides.

If you focus only there, you will lose the attention of the audience. Because there is no connection.

A good speaker has to know what happens in the room, at all times. Are people paying attention, are they bored, are they engaged? Who is laughing and who isn’t? And who seems to agree or disagree with you?

If you feel the room agrees or doesn’t agree, for example, act on it. Tell them “I see some people disagree, that’s fine, here’s why I feel it is like this…”

The mere fact that you are responding to their movements shows you care. And caring means connecting.

2. Look at people a bit longer

It’s common advice for speakers: “Look to all parts of the room and focus on some people”. Great advice, but you need to be careful with this. If you ‘glance’ over the audience too much, they will feel neglected. They feel you don’t ‘see’ them.

What you want is a real connection. This means looking people in the eye. In fact, look at some people a bit longer. Not too long, that gets creepy, but long enough to get the connection. Get a smile even. It will bring you closer.

3. Smile and have fun

Smiling is one of the most underestimated parts of public speaking. If you want to connect, the audience must feel you like them. And if you are not smiling, how will they ever feel you like them?

Once you show you are enjoying yourself on stage, the audience will become part of that. And they will feel closer to you.


How to make people smile? Sometimes you can do that with jokes. Being funny does help. If you can make the audience smile, they will feel closer to you.

Now there is a danger here. If your joke backfires, you could lose all the connection. So think about jokes. Don’t offend people. Don’t make fun of specific groups. Be lighthearted and funny. The best person to joke about is you.

4. Be personal

Which brings me to a very important part of your presentation. You have to make any presentation you do personal. People bond with you, not with the presentation. So as soon as you can make part of the presentation personal, you will get closer to the audience.

This doesn’t mean you have to keep telling stories about yourself or your kids all the time. It does mean, you want to connect the content of the presentation to your personality. Show the connection between you and what you are trying to get across. People will like you, and your talk, better.

5. Refer to what they already know

If you talk about stuff that people can’t relate to, you make it hard for them. It can be almost like you are talking to them in a foreign language. How do you feel when you are part of a conversation between two people speaking a language you don’t understand? You feel left out.

You want to avoid people feeling left out. Even when you are talking about difficult topics. You want to sometimes bring it back to basics. The best way of doing that is to refer to things people already know. Sometimes that is an analogy, sometimes it’s going back to something everybody knows.

If you refer to what people know, you give them trust and they will get closer to you.

6. Walk towards your audience

There are speakers who stand behind a desk. And there are those (like myself) who like to walk around. I prefer the walking way, for several reasons. For one, it’s a way of getting closer to your audience.

By physically getting closer to your audience, you will make them feel closer to you as well. So walk towards them. Make them ‘part’ of your presentation. And it will create a bond.

7. Compliment the audience

Finally, compliment the audience. Tell them how great they are.

There are several parts in the presentation where you can do this. At the start, you can make a compliment about the location, the city that you are in or the company that you are presenting at. During the talk, you can tell them you can see they are a smart audience. “I don’t need to tell you this, you know this”, shows you feel they are smart. And at the end of the talk, you can say you enjoyed their presence.

A compliment can do many things!

8. Tell a story

As you can see, there are many ways of getting a connection with your audience. The one important thing you have to keep in mind is that it has to be about them. They need to be able to recognise themselves.

The best way of doing that is by telling a story. People love stories. Not only because they are fun, but because it’s part of our DNA. Stories are part of our everyday life. Each day we tell each other stories. Each day we listen to stories.

When we hear a story, we listen better. We remember more. And we trust the source of a story. This is why storytelling is such a powerful tool. And this is why storytelling needs to be part of any type of talk that you do.

But Storytelling isn’t easy. That’s why we created a class for you that shows you exactly how to create a perfect story, over and over again.

If you sign up right away on this page, use the discount code “ConnectionKII5BI” to get $10 off!

Why people can’t handle a lot of text on your slides

In the past few weeks, I’ve been giving a lot of advice to speakers who were preparing their decks. Some of them were preparing for a conference. Others were preparing for workshops. And there were even those who were preparing for online courses.

It was a lot of fun to do, and there were some great decks sent in. Of course, there were also quite a few things I could suggest for improvement. There is one thing that kept coming back when analysing the different slide decks: the text.

A lot of speakers still put a lot of text on their slides. Because they want to share as much information as possible. This isn’t always the best approach though. Let me explain why. After that, I will explain how you can handle slides that do have text on them.

Why is having too much text on a slide a bad thing?

Before you go and change your behaviour… Of course, you want to know first, why is having too much text on a slide a bad thing? After all, you are trying to give your audience as much information as possible. Aren’t you helping them?

As well as the intent often is, it isn’t helping them. For a lot of reasons.

People read

Have you ever been to a bar where they had TV’s hanging on the wall? You will have. And you will have experienced that it is hard to keep your eyes off the screen. Even though your conversation partner has something interesting to say. You can’t keep your eyes off it.

The same thing happens with the screen(s) that are behind a speaker. People can’t take their eyes off it. At least, not until their brains have digested what is on the slide.

So what happens to a person when they see a lot of text on a slide? They start reading what is on it. Because they need to digest it. That means their attention will stay on the slide until they’ve read it all.

When your audience reads, they don’t hear you

Now try this: have someone tell you something, while you are trying to read something for the first time. You will either fail to read or fail to listen. You can’t do both.

The same will happen with your audience, they will focus on one thing. And that one thing is going to be the text. Their eyes will be drawn to the screen and will read, and won’t listen to you.

Your audience starts writing

I’m assuming that what you put on your slide is valuable information. Information that will help your audience. Your audience will feel the same way. It must be important because the speaker has put it on there!

When people come to an event or when they are listening to a speech, they want to remember things. And to remember, they will write things down. This means that when you put text on a slide, chances are your audience will write down what’s on your screen.

And you’ve guessed it. When they are writing, it’s hard to listen to you!

Too late

Especially when you have quite a bit of information on your slide, it will be hard for people to keep track of what you are saying. Chances are they will still be writing when you click to the next slide. That will mean they won’t hear the first things you are saying on a new topic.

They are playing catch up

The result is that people are playing catch up all through your presentation. They want to hear everything you say. They want to write down your message and your tips. But let’s put it bluntly: you’re not letting them.

The more text you have on your slides, the more your audience is playing catch up with your words. And that’s not something you want happening!

How much text can I put on a slide?

The question now of course arises, is how to handle the issue of too much text on a slide. And how much text should be on a (Powerpoint) slide anyway? There are a few things that you can do.

Give them short bites

The simplest solution, of course, is not to put too much text on a slide. But the truth is that you sometimes do need text. Also, because you sometimes WANT people to write something down. Or to tweet something.

The best way to do that is to use short bites. Short sentences that don’t take too much time to read or write down.

How much? I use the rule of the ‘old tweet’. Meaning around 140 characters. That is enough to digest. It will also make that it will be easier for people to share your quotes, using your name in it as well.

Don’t use text, use images

I don’t have much text on my slides. I use a lot of images. Using images prevents them from reading. I use images to represent what I am talking about. They support my words. They help my audience visualise my words.

Me speaking in London, using an image of my children to explain a point

If you want a good place to find the right images, you can read the article I wrote about where to find high-quality images.

Give them time to read

If you do need to share more text, give them time to read. Pause your speech. Tell them they can read the slide if they want. Just don’t talk through it if you don’t have to.

Share the slide!

It’s common use to share slides afterwards with audiences. Even though there is discussion about whether or not this is a smart thing to do. Especially when you are using a lot of images, it won’t make much sense to those who haven’t seen your presentation.

When you have a lot of text on your slides, it might be wise to share your slides. When you get to a slide with more text, tell your audience they will get that slide. Tell them they should write down some important words, but they don’t have to copy the entire slide.

Powerpoint math: the 1-6-6 rule? No.

Finally, there is the 1-6-6 rule. This rule is very simple. You should include no more than six words per line and no more than six bullet points per slide.

They invented this rule to prevent people from using too much text. Unfortunately, it does the exact opposite. It encourages people to add text, a slide with six bullets and six words each, is still a lot of text! So when you think this rule is the way to go. Go up, and read the post again!

The essence: think about their attention

When it comes to text on slides, there is no set number of words or characters you can or cannot use. The essence of it all, is to think about your audience. Understand them. And understand the attention curves. If you understand those, you can help your audience digest what they need to hear.

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Asking my audience to help me understand them better

“You have to connect with your audience”. It’s a sentence you can read in almost any book about public speaking or hear at any training session. You want the audience to get involved.

Why do you want the audience connection?

The books and the trainers are right. It’s good to get a connection with the audience. Once you have the connection, the audience is much more inclined to believe what you are saying. They trust you, so they will be more open to you. If they don’t trust you, your story, no matter how good, will not “do” anything. It won’t “live” and the audience won’t remember your important messages.

I always try to find the connection with the audience. Sometimes that is easier said than done. But I try.

At a conference a few years ago, I tried out something new. I asked my audience for help. Let me explain.

My talk

My talk was about Understanding your audience using data-driven marketing. It’s a topic I speak about more often and help businesses with.

As a speaker, it sometimes can be difficult to get a grip on your audience. They always come from different backgrounds. So they will perceive your talk in different ways.

In this case, I wanted to make an effort to understand my audience. That’s why I asked my audience for feedback. Right there and then. Asking for feedback is difficult. When asked, most people won’t tell you the truth. Or they keep it too simple: good, medium or bad. This doesn’t help me much to understand what they are taking away from my talk.

So I asked the audience for their notes.

Every audience is always making notes. On their computer, tablet or on paper. I decided I wanted to see these notes. So I asked the audience to tweet out a picture of their notes after my session.

I knew that this was tricky to do in Sweden. The audience in the Nordics is often a bit more reserved than somewhere else. They are knowledgeable but less interactive.

In this case, the result was great.

I got regular tweets with feedback and feedback in person afterward. And even better: I got pictures of the notes from some nice and helpful people in the audience.

What I learned

Looking at the notes helped me figure out a few things about my speech. Things that can help me improve my talks for next times. Here are a few learnings from the notes:

  • The audience understood my message. The message was that we need to make a bigger effort to try and understand our audiences.
  • People understood the different groups you need to split up your audiences in.
  • People like tricks.
  • Stories ‘stick’, I have to make sure the message is clear;
  • The quotes I put on the screen come back in the notes;
  • People on average will take away 3-5 things. Don’t put more in;
  • The competitor’s data part in the presentation didn’t show up in the notes;
  • The audience ignored Social Media platforms like FB-groups, G+ and Linkedin in the notes.

Some nice learnings there for me. I already knew about some of them. But there was some refreshing new information. For me, it was a success.

And somehow (but I haven’t checked that) I think this helped the audience as well. They will hopefully look at their notes in a different way.

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