Connecting with your audience

Giving a speech involves encouraging the audience to be active listeners and participants. This can be tricky, especially when you are nervous and just want to be done presenting. Below are a few tips and tricks to make this connection a little easier.

Getting the audience’s attention

Getting and keeping the audience’s attention during a speech or presentation can be a challenge. By keeping a few things in mind, you can get the audience’s attention and keep them engaged.

Relevance, novelty, or importance of the topic and claims being presented

  • Tell the audience why they should be listening to the information
    • Eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich does not have to result in sticky fingers and stained clothes.
  • How is this information important to your claim?
    • We’ve all experienced dripping jelly from our PB&J sandwiches, so today I will give you some tips, so your hands and clothes can stay clean.

Types of support

Individuals learn or take in information differently (e.g. visually, auditory, physically, or verbally); varying the way in which you support your argument may help you reach more of the audience.

Facts and statistics are commonly used, however they can be hard for the audience to relate to

  • Allow enough time to explain statistical data you use
    • 400 responses indicated they did not like PB&J sandwiches. Maybe what the audience hears but you may need to take more time to explain 400 responses indicated they did not like PB&J sandwiches, because of the mess they could make. Same information but very different meanings.
  • Use a short story
    • A little boy comes home, hungry, and upset because he was not able to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When he reached into his lunch bag his sandwich was ruined by jelly soaked bread.
  • Visuals
    • Be sure to use visual tools, to emphasize the points you are making. PowerPoint, Prezi, or tools similar can be effective as support for your claims. Keep your visuals simple. See the UWSC resource on Preparing Visual Aids.
  • Sensory descriptors—(e.g. hearing, seeing, tasting or touching) allows for the audience to become part of the speech.
    • The little boy is crying. Tears are rolling down his cheeks. He reaches for his sandwich, his fingers sink into a sticky, gooey mess of bread and jelly. He proceeds to lick his fingers. He loves the taste of peanut butter mixed with jelly, but he just wishes his sandwich wasn’t so messy.
  • Vocal delivery—the tone and/or volume of your voice can help emphasize points or indicate a question.
    • Tone—how something is said, is just as important as what is said
      • Vary your tone—this occurs naturally in casual conversation. This will help you avoid sounding monotone and help the speech seem less formal.
    • Volume—a louder voice or even a lower voice can grab the audience’s attention
  • Energize the audience
    • Ask the audience a question to reflect on
      • Think back. Do you remember a time when this happened to you or how you felt when you had sticky hands from a PB&J?
    • Provide a short activity for the audience
      • Provide each table/audience member (depending on size) the ingredients to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As you walk them through the process for making the sandwich, you can provide the supporting details.

Audience comprehension

A goal of a speech is to provide the audience with the information necessary to understand the topic you have chosen. You need to help them comprehend and relate to this information.

Limit the amount of new information

  • If a topic or evidence is new to the audience, go slowly and walk them through it
  • Give the audience enough information to get them interested in the topic
    • The audience can ask for more details if needed. If the audience is interested in the type of peanut butter or jelly you used, they can ask during the question-and-answer period or find you after the speech.
  • Use familiar information to relate to the new information, allowing the audience to make connections a little easier.
  • Make supporting points easy for the audience to follow
    • Sticky fingers and jelly soaked bread help to support the main idea
  • Too many details may confuse the audience or even make the topic boring

Clear organization of information will allow for the audience to follow the speech as you lead them through your topic. Using a visual aid like PowerPoint can be an effective tool to keep the audience following along.

Use signposts—a few words to help the audience know where the speaker is during the speech. Signposts help the audience follow the road map that was given in the introduction.

  • Numerical signposts are probably the most common
    • The first point is no one likes sticky fingers.
    • The second point is . . .
  • Questions
    • How can we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich less messy?
  • Phrasing
    • The most important thing to remember is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple in lunches.
      • This type of statement is meant to get the audience’s attention and to tell them what they should remember.
    • Practice—will help you present a clear road map for the audience to follow
      • Knowing your introduction and conclusion will keep you on track and guide the audience to understanding (even if there is a goof or two in the middle).
      • Keeps you from seeming as though you are unfamiliar with the speech (e.g. “um”, or “let me see”). This makes you credible as a speaker and keeps the audience from losing interest in your speech.
    • Use vocabulary the audience is familiar with and can relate to
      • Peanut butter and jelly can become a lot to say, so using PB&J is more concise. You can always provide an explanation if you feel it is needed.
    • Remain clear and concise throughout speech
      • Use notes to remain on topic
      • Remember you are the only one who knows how the speech was planned. If you get away from your plan, just keep going; no one will even know.

Audience retention

Audience retention is getting the audience to retain/remember the information you have just presented.

  • Restatement and repetition—the more something is heard, the more it is likely to be retained
  • Limit the number of supporting points
    • Use two to three points or support for each claim
  • Make the last statement an impactful statement. The audience will walk away remembering what you said.
    • All this talk of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches makes me want to eat one with a big glass of milk on the side. What about you?


Beebe, S. A., & Beebe, S. J. (2012). A concise public speaking handbook, 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Lucas, S. (2012). The art of public speaking, 11th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Sprague, J. & Stuart, D. (2013). The speaker's compact handbook, 4th ed. Portland: Ringgold, Inc.

Vrooman, S. S. (2013). The zombie guide to public speaking: Why most presentations fail, and what you can do to avoid joining the horde. Place of publication not identified: CreateSpace