Tag Archives: storytelling

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 www.thepsa.co.uk. 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 www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_


Public Speaking Lessons from the Professionals


On Saturday 18 April I attended the Professional Speaking Association LIVE Conference; a great opportunity to hear fabulous speakers, learn more about how to build a speaking business, get more speaking tips, connect with other speakers and to celebrate achievements of individuals in the industry.

It was fascinating to witness the variety of different speaking styles, all engaging in their own way and all true to their own unique approach. I love the opportunity to learn by observing other speakers so here are some of my take-away tips from the event:

Have a Great Title

Whilst many people don’t give much thought to their presentation title, it can be the difference between whether you have a few folk turning up or standing room only. At the PSA conference there were nine experts (including myself) giving a variety of different ‘Meet the Experts’ sessions and the titles definitely helped delegates know which sessions to attend.

Your title will attract your audience if it:

  • promises a benefit e.g. Discover How You Can Become the GO TO SPEAKER
  • offers a story e.g. How a Single Mum Became a Super Solopreneur in Under 12 Months
  • includes a number e.g. 5 Steps to Crisp Communication
  • encourages curiosity e.g. The Surprising Truth About Top Salespeople
  • makes people not want to miss out on knowing e.g. 3 Biggest Mistakes of First Time Leaders

Have a Great Introduction

A well-crafted and well delivered introduction can ensure that your audience eagerly welcomes you to the stage in anticipation of what’s to come. On the flip side, a poor introduction can make it harder for you as a presenter to win over your audience.

I always advise my clients to write an introduction for their presentation, ensure it is in font large enough to read and provide it to the meeting organiser/MC prior to the event. In addition take a hard copy with you on the day in case the person introducing you doesn’t have a copy. It’s not always possible to ensure that you have a great introduction (although professional speakers will insist this is in their contract!); however, providing a copy to your host shows you are professional and prepared and ensures you are more likely to be introduced in the way you want to be.

Your introduction should:

  • explain what the topic is (give a hint of what’s to come without giving away it all)
  • explain why the topic is important for this audience
  • establish your credibility and why you are qualified to deliver this talk
  • avoid exaggerated hype and clichés
  • be short and punchy

Tell Great Stories

The Professional Speaking Association is filled with wonderful storytellers and the speakers at the convention were no exception. Every speaker on the main stage shared stories that engaged us and reinforced their points. But it was Simon Bucknall’s closing keynote that reminded me of the importance of finding the value in our ordinary stories. We might not think our stories are interesting or relevant but there are messages in all stories and it is the stories that may be slightly uncomfortable to share that are likely to resonate best with our audience.

Simon asked the question ‘What story have you left untold?’ This particularly resonated with me and has inspired me to share some of my untold stories in my new keynote speech.


As we all know, a poor PowerPoint presentation can send an audience to sleep. But even a good PowerPoint presentation is not required to engage an audience. This was superbly demonstrated by Steve Head who shared his tips for building a speaking business. Steve used vocal variety, body language, shared relevant content and interacted with the audience to ensure that he kept our attention for his entire presentation.

PowerPoint is great if it is used specifically to help the audience gain a deeper understanding of your content but you should craft your message first and then think about which visual aids will best support your content, rather than the other way around.

Let Your Personality Shine

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, each of the speakers at the conference were very different but all true to their own style. Audiences don’t want to see a carbon copy of someone else when you are presenting so it is crucial to let the authentic you shine through. The more you speak in public and test out your material the more you will be able to develop a style that works for you. Trust yourself and go for it!

Mel Sherwood is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success. 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.

Specialising in helping others transform their life and their business through clear, confident and credible communication, Mel empowers ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to clarify their message, engage their audience and use their body, voice, mind and heart to enthusiastically and authentically express their ‘inner oomph’. To find out more go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential