3 provocative ways to engage your audience during a speech

Cam Barber. Photo: The Vivid Method

At the beginning of a speech your audience is usually eager to hear what you’ve got to say but if you fail to engage them throughout, you’ll lose them.

This can mean your audience becomes disengaged and distracted, and potentially misinterprets your message.

You need to be able to appeal to your audience’s sensibilities and interests but at the same time maintain the essence of your message.

Communications coach and chief executive of The Vivid Method for Public Speaking, Cam Barber, says there are a bunch of ways to engage the audience and capture their attention.

“There are plenty of cool ways to engage your listeners more deeply,” he says in his upcoming book What’s Your Message.

“The best way to boost your stage presence is to use techniques that paint a clearer picture.

Accordingly, these techniques focus on ways to amplify your ideas and add flesh to the bones of your information. They don’t require acting skills, but they do offer some fun techniques to capture and keep your audience’s attention.”

Here are 3 techniques Barber says you can use to get your audience back on track.

“You may be thinking…”

This method counters objections that may be blocking the absorption of your message.

“Most people who have concerns don’t mention them,” Barber says.

“To be persuasive, you need to neutralise your listeners’ concerns. This technique raises the concern and then satisfies it with a reasonable response.”

Here’s how to do it. Work out the questions or concerns your audience might have, then state them like this: “You may be thinking… [state their question or concern, then state your response]”.

“When this technique is done well, your question provokes their mind, and opens it up to be satisfied by your answer,” he says.

“It demonstrates you understand their perspective, building trust as a result.”


“A good metaphor paints a rich picture in just a few words,” Barber says.

Metaphors add a strong emotional and visual image to your ideas and provoke the audience’s mind into action by compelling them to make a comparison.

“Einstein became the most famous person of the 20th century, not just because he was smart, but because he was able to communicate complex ideas in simple ways. He often used metaphor to do this,” he says.

Here are a few Einstein examples:

  • When asked his opinion on the new theory of quantum physics, he rejected it with, “God does not play dice with the universe.”
  • When talking about the atrocities of war, he said, “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
  • When he wanted to get across a point about crowd thinking he said, “In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must, above all, be a sheep.”


Here’s another technique Einstein liked. For example, he explained a theory about the fact that nothing is faster than the speed of light, by saying;

“Imagine you are driving a car in space at the speed of light; what happens if you turn the headlights on?”

This is a metaphor with some grunt. It’s another technique you can employ to provoke the mind of your audience.

Einstein delivers a lecture. Photo: Getty Images

“It transports your listeners into ‘the picture’,” Barber says.

Barber refers to this method as “image scenarios” or “living examples”.

Here are just a few you can use:

  • Imagine… [paint a picture of the future]
  • Imagine… [outline the positive result if we do X]
  • Imagine… [outline the negative result if we don’t]
  • Imagine… [the problems solved]
  • Imagine… [experiencing these good/bad feelings]

“Guiding people through an ‘imagine scenario’ makes them feel part of the story rather than just observers of it,” Barber says.

“That’s why the imagine technique is used all the time in advertising. However, we can also learn from advertisers who use it poorly.

“It’s not a matter of just throwing in the word ‘imagine’. Remember to paint the picture for them. So, rather than just saying ‘Imagine the benefits of having more time…’ say:

“Imagine what you could do with an extra hour per day… write that novel, play more golf, relax more instead of rushing, etc.”

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