Category Archives: engaging an audience

Lessons from Hosting the Scottish EDGE Final

Mel Sherwood EDGE10

If you had an opportunity to compere the final of the UK’s largest funding competition, how would you feel? If you’re like most people, including me, you may feel a little daunted by the prospect!

The Scottish EDGE final takes place twice a year and is an eagerly anticipated event in the entrepreneurial calendar. Held at RBS Conference Centre in Gogarburn and attended by 600 people across the course of the event, audiences this round saw twenty promising entrepreneurs pitch their businesses plans to an expert panel of judges in order to win a slice of a £1.3 million prize pot.

I’ve been involved with the EDGE in some way or another since the first round 4 years ago. I’ve run pitch workshops for applicants and have personally coached more than 30 EDGE, Young EDGE and Wildcard EDGE winners who have secured more than £1.25 million between them. So I was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to host the Round 10 final.

Having sat through most of the EDGE finals I was aware that the host has a massive duty to keep the energy and momentum up throughout the day for the benefit of the entrepreneurs who are pitching as well as for the audience.

With that kind of responsibility on my shoulders, I was keen to do a good job in the role and ensure it was engaging, informative and entertaining. I pitched some ideas to Scottish EDGE CEO, Evelyn McDonald, and COO, Steven Hamill, who embraced my suggestions to increase audience engagement and Steven incorporated it into the script he kindly drafted for me. We included activities that required audience interaction such as ‘2 Truths and a Lie’ about the EDGE team which generated some laughs as we learnt more about each of them, and we asked the audience to guess the answers to questions such as ‘What is the total number of jobs EDGE winners have created?’  We also ran a competition for audience members to come up with an alternative acronym to EDGE and they came up with some crackers. Some of my favourites included ‘Everyday Delivers Grief for Entrepreneurs’, ‘Enjoying Da Gogarburn Experience’ and ‘Educating Drivers in Good Etiquette’ (you had to be there!) Incidentally, EDGE actually stands for Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day after seeing twenty entrepreneurs get out of their comfort zone to give their #pitchtastic pitches in front of a formidable panel and a packed auditorium, I got out of my comfort zone to wrap up the event by singing a song I wrote to capture the spirit of the EDGE. This was a bit of a challenge for me because I feel the same way about singing as many people feel about public speaking – super anxious, but thankfully it seemed to go okay!

Overall, the day went really well and there has been some great feedback, but it didn’t happen without any planning or preparation – there was a whole fabulous team of people involved in bringing it together and as the host I had to make sure I did my bit to ensure the success of the event.

Congratulations to everyone involved and to the twenty businesses who delivered such a high standard of pitches – whether you won or not, you were all absolutely #pitchtastic!

If you have the opportunity to host an event, here are some of my tips to ensure you are well prepared to ensure everything runs smoothly:

Before the day

  • Research the audience and why they are in attendance
  • Understand the event and its themes so that you can align your comments and reinforce key messages
  • Find out exactly what the organisers are expecting you to do
  • Prepare a script, or at least bullet points to ensure you cover everything that needs to be mentioned
  • Prepare some relevant anecdotes and stories you can weave in throughout the day
  • Prepare introductions for all speakers; make sure they are happy with what you will say
  • If hosting a panel, research the panel and prepare introductions and questions
  • Think through possible problems and prepare some solutions should the worst occur
  • Think about ways you may be able to interact with the audience to keep them engaged
  • Ask about the pronunciation of all names or words you are unfamiliar with (I did this for the majority and was still caught out by some slightly different to ‘normal’ pronunciation so always check every detail with the actual person you are introducing)
  • Practice what you are going to say, especially any unfamiliar words or phrases
  • Visit the venue where possible; at the very least obtain pictures so you have an idea of the set up and layout of seating, etc

On the day

  • Arrive early (I arrived just before 8am for a 9.30am start)
  • Let the organisers know you have arrived and ask if there is anything additional you should know or anything they might need you to do to help prepare for the event
  • Familiarise yourself with the space, stand on the stage, walk up any steps, check where the lectern and other props/staging might be, note where you will enter and exit the stage
  • Sit in a few different seats in the auditorium so you can see what it will be like from the audience’s perspective
  • Find out about any prepared fire alarm tests, where the toilets are, etc
  • Meet sound and lighting technician/s (they will be your best friend and ensure you are seen and heard)
  • Find out where and when you will need to get your microphone and make sure you are there at that time
  • Anticipate questions the speakers may have (e.g. how to use the slide ‘clicker’)
  • Warm up your body and voice so that you aren’t warming up on the audience’s time
  • Take a moment to prepare yourself mentally and get into the right state before the event commences

During the event

  • Start strongly and positively; remember you are setting the scene for the event
  • Stay alert and ready to adapt as required
  • Vary your voice and use open body language to ensure your delivery is engaging
  • Listen to the speakers so that you can incorporate a comment about their talk when thanking them
  • Keep to time; you may need to fill some time between speakers but remember it’s not about you so don’t go on and on leading the event to run overtime
  • Smile, be lively and enthusiastic and keep your energy up throughout the entire event

After the event

  • Thank the organisers, the tech crew and anyone else who has supported you through the event
  • Review your performance – think about what went well and what you would do differently in the future
  • Relax and recover!

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_


How to Engage an Audience – Lessons from Professional Speakers


The annual Professional Speaking Association (PSA) Mega Conference is the event of the year for professional speakers in the UK and this year it was held in Nottingham from 7-9 October. It’s where members come together for three days to listen, learn, share and network with fellow speakers and trainers.

The PSA aims to help members to ‘speak more, speak better’ so the sessions were a mixture of tips on how to grow a speaking business and how to further develop speaking skills.

Whilst I have a notepad filled with brilliant takeaway messages from all of the speakers, the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the lessons we can learn from them about engaging an audience. Some are tips directly from their mouths, some are from my observations about the way the delivered their message.

1. Dress Like the Speaker

Jennifer De St Georges was one of the judges of the prestigious Speaker Factor competition and after the semi-final she mentioned that the contestants needed to consider how they were dressed. In her opinion, if they are aiming to become professional speakers they will need to dress appropriately for their audience and in a way that everyone knows they are the speaker. The following day at the finals it was clear who was dressed to win; some speakers really stood out and made the others look under dressed. Jennifer suggested that to gain respect from your audience and be seen as the expert, you need to dress accordingly (and as she says “If you’re not the expert, why are you the speaker?”)

2. Use Props

Props can really enhance your audience’s understanding of your message and over the weekend I picked out three great examples of how to incorporate props for maximum impact.

The first one was a sight gag that appealed to my sense of humour during the Comedy Night. Jason Butler had a couple of boxes wrapped up like presents; it went with line “I was told that as a speaker I need to have stage presents!” A great gag for an audience of professional speakers for whom good stage presence is vital.

Whilst sharing a story about Celebrity Service, Geoff Ramm talked about how he handed over his money to purchase something for his daughter’s birthday. The way he reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled out a £20 note demonstrated exactly how he was feeling about parting with his cash; this would not have been as effective without the cash in his hand and demonstrated the benefit of showing over telling.

My favourite use of a prop was in Steve Judge’s Speaker Factor competition speech. Steve talked about an accident he had been in which caused him to lose a chunk of his tibia bone. He had a replica bone which he held up and snapped in two places to demonstrate where the bone had broken and then he dropped the broken piece into a metal bin. This prop not only worked visually but the sound of the snapping bone and the clunk as it landed in the metal bin really brought home the seriousness of the situation.

3. Memorable Phrases and Tweetable quotes

Whatever your topic, it’s always a good idea to include simple messages that are easy to remember and easy to share, especially if your audience is encouraged to post on social media such as Twitter. Here is a selection of my favourites from the weekend:

– If you can’t close enough sales, you’ll have to close your speaking business – Simon Hazeldine
– You are your own CEO, Chief Energy Officer – Celynn Erasmus
– If you want to increase the commas in your bank account, decrease the commas in your expertise – Dawnna St Louis
– You don’t own your brand, it lives in the minds of other people – David Avrin
– You have to deactivate to reactivate – Celynn Erasmus
– Don’t do it better, don’t do it cheaper, do it different. Stand out – Katie Bulmer-Cooke

Katie also stood out by using her own very appropriate made up word; she said she was going to share her “Kate-aways” to help make our businesses much fitter and stronger. A catchy phrase like this is a simple way to be noticed and remembered. Another person who does this very well is previous a PSA Mega Conference speaker from the USA, Patricia Fripp, who delights audiences with her “Frippisms”.

4. Storytelling

It has long been known that storytelling is one of the best ways to convey a message and ensure it sticks. Throughout the conference there were numerous examples of great storytelling including talks from Peter Roper, Alan Stevens, Tiffany Kemp, Katie Bulmer-Cooke, Andy Lopata and many more.

But my favourite example of storytelling, and in fact the highlight of the entire conference for me was in Geoff Ramm’s talk on Celebrity Service. Entertaining and engaging, his attention to detail, vocal variety and brilliant stagecraft brought his crystal clear message to life. He not only used the entire stage well to ensure he connected with everyone, but his expressive face and body language drew the audience in so we couldn’t help but be captivated. For a masterclass in storytelling, I highly recommend you spend 30 minutes watching this talk (after you’ve finished reading this post of course!)

5. Authenticity

The most appealing and engaging speakers are those that are true to themselves, who are comfortable in their skin and speak from the heart. Whilst they may learn from others, they don’t try to mimic or copy other speakers.

When looking to improve our public speaking we can often get hung up on the ‘rules’ for crafting the perfect phrases, focusing on where to stand, choreographing when to move and choosing which gesture will have maximum impact.

But more important is the ability to connect with an audience just the way you are. When on stage you need to bring an energy that is slightly bigger and better version of yourself in order to connect with your audience, but you still need to be yourself.

We were fortunate to witness a number of different speaking styles throughout the conference; the American speakers tended to have a larger and louder way of communicating their message whilst the British speakers were just as capable of engaging an audience even though their style was often very different. The importance of being true to your own style was is was highlighted by Andy Rogers, last year’s Speaker Factor winner, whose quiet demeanour and natural storytelling had us spellbound and the refreshing approach of Katie Bulmer Cooke who chatted away in her strong Northern accent just like we were having a conversation over a coffee.

Peter Brandl, a speaker from Germany challenged us in his keynote by asking “Are you willing to remove the mask on stage?” He urged us to stop trying to be the person we want to be seen as; it might protect us but it also protects our emotions from coming out and therefore stops us revealing our true self.

Authenticity is so important in speaking that Lee Jackson, the new President of The Professional Speaking Association announced that it is his theme for his PSA presidential year.

So when you are preparing for your next speech or presentation, remember to consider these 5 tips around image, props, memorable phrases, storytelling and authenticity to ensure you engage your audience like the professionals.

For more information about the Professional Speaking Association go to If you’re based in Scotland, why not come along to our next event in Edinburgh on Thursday 10 November – click here for details.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_