(MoneyWatch) Whether you're addressing your team in a weekly meeting or headlining at a large conference, it's easy to get a belly full of butterflies before public speaking. The last thing you want to see when you look out at your audience? People checking their smartphone, yawning, or just staring at you blankly. Here's how to avoid losing them:
Make your pitch personal
Telling stories is a great way to draw people in. "Personal stories and self-directed humor are [most effective]," says Ruth Sherman, author of "Get Them to See It Your Way, Right Away: How to Persuade Anyone of Anything." Facts, stats and other information is great, but a story acts as a vehicle to put that data into a digestible form.
Start strong and build on the momentum
A great intro line, interesting stat or news headline can help hook your audience. "If your presentation is about breakfast, you might share a statistic about the number of Americans who eat cold pizza versus cold cereal to start their day," says Tammy A. Miller, president of Tammy Speaks, LLC and a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker.
Use props to pull them in
Some people are visual learners, so a physical prop, a PowerPoint presentation, YouTube videos and/or maintaing eye contact can help them concentrate. "For instance, you might show that your new cell phone can interact with you by pulling it out of your pocket and giving a demonstration. This technique is a powerful way to get your point across," notes Miller.
Interact with your audience
Get your audience involved, and not listening isn't an option. "Get them to do something physical. For example, if you're talking about work-life balance, have people stand on one foot," says Kevin Sensenig, Global Vice President of Learning & Organization Development at Dale Carnegie & Associates. Instruct them to post something on LinkedIn, ask for a show of hands, or break them into groups for smaller discussions. "Show that you have an understanding of their world. Be personal. Make eye contact. Use people's names. Encourage questions and participation," says Sensenig.