10 Ways to Engage Your Audience During an Important Meeting Every time you take the stage, you compete against dozens of distractions. Learn how to maximize all the forces in your favor.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Audience engagement is an essential part of important meetings and presentations. Attention spans have become increasingly short. You only have a few minutes to pique the interest of your audience.

Every time you take the stage -- whether in a small boardroom or large auditorium -- you compete against dozens of distractions. Your audience may be stressed from the commute, preoccupied with challenges at work or more interested in email than what you have to say.

If you fail to connect with your audience, you may lose out on new business opportunities. But should you prepare and deliver an engaging presentation, however, your message could land you your next big client, partner or investor.

Use these 10 tips to engage and captivate any audience:

Related: 4 Meeting Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Time

1. Be authentic.

Entrepreneurs who think too highly of themselves may be perceived as arrogant. Share your successes and achievements, but do so in an authentic way. Success does not equal superiority. Don't claim to have qualities you don't possess. Instead, let your actions speak more highly of you than your own words.

2. Slow down.

If you feel stressed or anxious, you may speak too quickly. Remember to slow down your speech, enunciate your words and look your audience in the eye. When you're calm, you're less likely to stumble over words.

3. Be vulnerable.

A presenter who shares a personal story can immediately connect with an audience.

By showing others that you're human, people can relax and better connect with you. Don't be afraid to share a story or two about how you failed at something and what you learned in the process. Disclosing an event with some emotional fallout builds trust. Open up and be willing to give your audience the chance to get to know you, the real you.

4. Communicate clearly.

Words are powerful but only if they're understood. Don't talk over people's heads. While you may be tempted to show off your extensive vocabulary or knowledge of industry jargon, be sure to use only words and terms that your audience will understand.

Related: 4 Pointers for Getting the Most Out of Meetings

5. Tell jokes sparingly.

Humor can be a powerful way to engage an audience when it's appropriate. Jokes should be fun and maintain a professional tone, but not be offensive. Never target a joke at a specific person or group of people. Though you may receive laughs, you'll be perceived as hurtful and unprofessional.

6. Overcome nervousness.

It's natural and beneficial to be a little nervous before an important meeting or presentation. But nervousness can send the message that you lack confidence.

Don't let your anxiety trip you up. Instead, keep your audience focused on your message. Don't worry about being perfect. Prepare ahead of time, practice what you want to say and then give your presentation with confidence.

7. Captivate people.

Attention spans are exceedingly short. Capture audience members' attention within the first few moments of your presentation. Even if they forget much of what you say, people often remember stories that best illustrate a point.

Speech coach Steve Siebold, founder of the Bill Gove Speech Workshop, said, "Make a point, then tell a story." Keep your stories short and relevant.

8. Address problems.

Identify what your group's problems or challenges are and address them in your presentation. First demonstrate an understanding of your audience and then provide potential solutions.

9. Create handouts when necessary.

Speeches, presentations and meetings are best used to capture attention, share broad ideas and pique an audience's interest. If you plan to share detailed information, create a report or handout. Your audience will be better equipped to review and understand such information if it's written.

10. Encourage interaction.

Sometimes the best course of action is to lead a dialogue rather than give a straightforward presentation. Allow audience members to ask questions. Organize group discussion and encourage feedback. This will keep your audience engaged and involved throughout the presentation.

Related: How to Make Deathly Dull Meetings Fun Again

Wavy Line
Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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