One of the many nightmares of public speaking is having a bored audience. It happens to everyone, but it doesn’t make it any less worrisome. Sometimes an audience is obviously bored, and other times you just get the feeling they’re not enjoying your talk. Either way, you should know these tricks to keep an audience engaged.
Quickly, here’s how to speak to a bored audience: Be animated, invite participation with a show of hands or applause, shock them from the start with an interesting story, tell a few tasteful jokes if appropriate, and don’t be afraid to go off script.
There are many more tips to share here, so keep reading. You’re sure to learn something new that you can use in your next presentation or speech.
Also, whether you’re a good and experienced or you’re just starting, check out these best public speaking books currently available.
Table of Contents
How to speak to a bored audience using body language
Imagine watching a movie where nobody moved and no one had any facial expressions. That would be incredibly boring! Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of speakers behave when they step into the spotlight. And, as a result, that’s how you get bored audiences.
Using your body and face to express important aspects of your speech or presentation helps keep audiences engaged. It’s good advice, but it’s advice that often confuses people who aren’t used to behaving that way.
I try to explain it as if you were an actor on stage. You’re playing a part. You need to use your body to show your audience something interesting. Use it to emphasize a point or direct attention.
#1 Move around the stage to grab attention
The most obvious way to use your body in a speech or presentation is to simply walk from one point to another. I mean this figuratively and literally.
When changing points in your presentation or moving onto a new sub-topic, begin slowly walking to a new spot on your stage. It’s a not-so-subtle visual reminder that you’re moving on to a new subject.
Walking is best done slowly and during your segue. Take deliberate steps, emphasizing important words or phrases with another one.
You can also use large body movements and changes of location during long stretches of explanations or during stories. This keeps the audience’s eyes on you. Emphasizing certain points by appearing to move to a new location, then stopping in your tracks is one way to show a problem that needs to be solved, for example.
#2 Use your hands
If space is limited or you feel you’ve walked around enough, you can still use your body to speak to your audience. The best way to do so is to use your hands.
Don’t take this to mean you should flop them about like a crazed bird. Your movements should be smooth, comforting, natural. Or maybe not.
It’s okay to use some sudden hand motions in exciting parts or shocking parts. However, you don’t want to make a habit of this. Too many quick or sudden movements can be distracting and annoying. It can also imply you’re uncomfortable.
For some visual tips, try watching videos of professional magicians. They have the best hand movements in any spectator event. You may not be performing magic tricks at your next event, but you can learn a lot about fluid hand motions by watching the pros in action.
Here is a thorough article which talks more about “What To Do With Your Hands During a Speech?“
#3 Exaggerate facial expressions
For the people in the front few rows, your face is going to tell more of the story than your words and body can do alone. When you learn to properly exaggerate your expressions, people even farther back can reap those benefits, too.
There is a fine line between appropriate exaggeration and becoming a laughing stock. Too much emphasis or exaggeration and you’ll lose credibility. Not enough, and your audience will get lost.
Be sure to practice this at home in a mirror. It’s also helpful to ask friends or colleagues to watch your expressions and give feedback.
Look to live plays (or recordings of plays) to see this in action. Stage actors are trained to reach everyone in the theater. Even in the nose-bleed seats. Watch how they use exaggerated facial expressions, often holding them just a second or two longer than natural to help emphasize. They also slowly turn to be sure everyone gets a chance to see.
#4 Be animated to keep attendees interested
Being animated doesn’t mean being obnoxious or flamboyant. It means you should find a balance between standing perfectly still and adding overall movement to your speech.
Animated speeches include hands, body, and facial expressions. They should work together to give an overall emphasis or to indicate movement within the presentation, for example.
Try to keep your actions natural, but enhanced. This takes some practice, so grab your video camera and watch yourself.
How to speak to a bored audience using your voice
Body language is just one important aspect to keeping audiences engaged. Yet you can be animated and active all day long, but if your voice is drab and boring, you’ll still lose your audience’s attention.
Here’s how to use your voice to keep the audience engaged.
#5 Use emotional inflection to capture listeners
I remember listening to my middle school history teacher drone on and on about politics in other countries. It was excruciating to sit through. I’d have rather spent time at the dentist than listen to one more of his speeches.
The issue wasn’t the topic of his speeches; it was his tone. He was so monotone and lifeless, I felt like I could fall asleep at any moment. Because of his speaking habits, I dreaded every long second in that class. I vowed to never speak like that man, and you should too.
Use inflections during emotional parts of your presentation. Emotions can be anything from excitement to sadness to shock, and everything in between. Emotional inflection can be used in conjunction with animated movements to help drive the point home and get audiences in the right mood.
To illustrate this point, I like to direct my readers’ attentions to old-timey radio broadcasts. Those actors knew how to use emotional inflection to grab listeners. They didn’t have the added benefit of a screen—they had to use their voices.
#6 Modulate your volume
A subtle way to keep an audience engrossed is to change your volume. You can go two ways with this.
First, you can use appropriate modulation. What I mean by this is that you raise your voice at an expected moment. During an exciting story, for example. This will keep audiences engaged because you’re behaving as they expect. It’s a way to keep them comfortable, too.
Second, you can choose to use unexpected voice modulation. For example, you could become quiet during an exciting moment, leaning in and encouraging the audience to lean in close, too. This unexpected behavior will grab their attention and show them this is not an ordinary presentation. You’re not an ordinary speaker.
But why stop with those two methods? Mix them up! Change your tone and volume to keep your attendees on the edge of their seats.
#7 Change the pace of your words
There should always be a flow to your speeches. You need a specific cadence to your words to help them ring true. However, this can backfire in a bad way if you’re not mindful.
This is especially imperative information for longer speeches. The longer you talk, the more likely you’ll bore your audience. To prevent the hypnotic nature of perfectly-paced speeches, change your cadence.
Sometimes, you should be speaking at a normal, conversational pace. Others, you should go quickly, making your words move in fast succession. Use smaller words during these parts so it can be more engaging.
Use slower pacing for other parts, using longer words and perhaps drawing out a few pauses for emphasis.
There is no perfect pace, so be sure to mix it up and keep changing as you go along.
Here is a thorough article which talks more about “How to Use Your Voice Effectively in a Presentation?“. And here you can read more about “13 Effective Ways How to Make Speech Pauses“
Entertaining speech pointers for bored audiences
Sometimes, boredom is unavoidable. You can do everything right and your audience may still be bored to tears. Usually, these are people who aren’t at your speech voluntarily. They don’t want to be there and so they’ve walked in with the assumption they’ll be bored to death.
It’ll be tough, but you can still win these people over!
#8 Shock the audience
If you anticipate the audience may be bored right from the start, plan to begin your speech with something shocking. This can be an outlandish announcement that you later debunk as a part of your explanation. It can be a piece of incredible industry news that most people don’t know yet. It can be pure speculation or a thought experiment.
Honestly, this shocking element can be just about anything, as long as you can work it into your speech. Just be sure it’s relevant to your topic and to the industry you’re speaking about.
Here you can read more about “How to make a speech introduction that grabs attention?“
#9 Hint at something incredible
Humans are naturally curious beings. If you drop a hint early in your presentation that implies you’ll be revealing something amazing later, your audience will be curious and may perk up. Keep dropping hints as you go through your speech to keep reeling them in.
Just be sure the incredible thing at the end is really worth their time. Nothing is more anger-inducing during a speech than empty promises.
#10 Ask questions
Bored audiences disengage fairly quickly. You can often see it happening. If you do notice this, try to ask a question. Ask anything that will get people’s attention.
You’re feeding off the natural human desire to be seen and heard. Something as simple as asking for a show of hands can keep people engaged. It shows that you, the speaker, acknowledge the audience and their opinions. It makes the listeners feel like a part of the presentation instead of just spectators.
#11 Go off script
This is pretty basic advice, but it’s good enough that I want to repeat it here. Too many people stick too closely to their speech notes. It’s robotic and unnatural. Don’t be afraid to go off script if the audience seems to be losing interest in your planned route.
This is also helpful if your audience is particularly interested in one aspect but loses interest when you change topics. Find a way to circle back around to the thing that grabbed their attention. Even better if you can integrate the perceived boring part into the exciting one.
#12 Tell a story, even if it’s not true
There is a saying that goes “learn by example”. Another saying goes “Make a point, tell a story”. It means that you should learn a lesson based on someone else’s experience, whether good or bad. In the case of speeches and presentations for bored audiences, you can use a story to pull them back in.
The story doesn’t have to be true, but it’s helpful if you present it as such. If it isn’t true, it’s always best to let them know at the end that it wasn’t. That way they don’t feel duped.
Just let them know you wanted to get their attention by telling a story that could have happened. This is particularly useful for people selling products or services, but it can work for many industries.
#13 Begin with a problem
Bored people need something to do. Give them a problem to solve and they may brighten right up.
This tip can go along with the story-telling or the shocking tip, too. Be creative!
When you begin your speech with a problem, you’re telling people why they should listen in the first place. You’re also giving their brains something to do in the background.
Don’t solve the problem right away. Hint at the answer coming later, but keep pulling back to it so the audience remembers why they’re listening.
Take a look at the article “How to write a speech: 20 good and effective tips“
Boring the audience: To slide or not to slide?
I hear a lot of questions regarding the use of slides during presentations and speeches. There are good and bad points to using them, but we won’t cover those in this article. Sometimes, slides are unavoidable.
Right now, I want to discuss how to speak to a bored audience when you have to use slides.
#14 Don’t read from the slides
The number one way to bore an audience with slides is to read them word for word. Your audience can read just fine on its own. There is no reason to read the slides for them. It’s insulting, boring, and repetitive. Your listeners will zone out pretty quickly this way.
Since you can’t read the slides, what should you do? Simple. Just paraphrase what the slide says. To keep an audience from dropping into boredom, paraphrase the slides in an interesting way.
If you’re feeling cheeky, paraphrase them in rhyme. If you don’t have that kind of levity available for your topic, you can paraphrase in simple industry lingo instead. There are as many ways to restate a slide as there are topics, so just use your imagination.
#16 Use Easter eggs
I don’t mean that everyone should get up and look for actual Easter eggs under their chairs, though that might be fun. Easter eggs in this sense are referring to hidden bits inside movies, games, and yes, even slides.
Tell your audience at the start of the slide show that there are a certain number of Easter eggs hidden within them. You can ask the audience at the end if they found them all. Then, if you’re feeling nice, you can show them where they were hidden.
It’s an interactive way to keep the audience engaged and actually paying attention to the slides and your presentation. You can add clues within your speech, too.
Just be sure your Easter eggs are relevant to the topic and your slideshow.
Final thoughts: How do I stop being a boring speaker?
Bored audiences can really ruin your experience. They can make you feel terrible about yourself, your speech, or even your career. But you must not take it personally. Many audiences simply start out expecting to be bored, and it has nothing to do with you.
Your best bet is to walk into your speech knowing the audience might start out bored or get bored halfway through. Be prepared with the tips I’ve provided above, and you’ll be much more likely to leave the audience entertained and engaged.
How to keep audience attention during a presentation? Keeping an audience’s attention during a presentation is as simple as: entertaining them with stories and anecdotes. Asking questions. Taking a poll. Moving and being animated while you speak. Posing a problem or conundrum.
How to make a boring subject interesting? Add interest to your speech or presentation by bringing in humor. Use creative slideshows or props. Put a creative twist on boring materials by using unexpected examples such as pop culture references or strange stories from history. Add videos with upbeat music and action.
What are some engaging presentation tools? Use videos to make a point or tell a story. Use slideshows with bright colors and bold text—be sure the words are few and succinct. Stop videos or slideshows in the middle to poll the audience, ask questions, or add a personal anecdote. Use props or even take-away gifts to help tell your story or make your points.