Keep your Audience from Checking Out of your Speech

So often I watch speakers tell stories that sound like this:

“I did this and I did that and then I did this and then I did that and then this happened to me and then I did that…” And then, at the end of the story, they turn to the audience and say, “And you should do it too!”

That is not an engaging message. The problem is the speakers lose the audience during the “I-focused” parts of the story.

The Solution

There are many solutions to this speaking problem and the one you pick up in this lesson is a favorite of mine, because it’s simple, quick, and non-invasive. What I mean by non-invasive is that it doesn’t cut into your speech and leave scars. Instead it’s simply something you can apply to the surface that makes the speech more attractive. This tool is what I call You-focused check-ins. When it comes to your audience’s attention, always remember this:

You must check in so they don’t check out


Have you been checking in with your audience?

To keep your audience engaged throughout your stories, it’s important to check in with them. Many speakers check in after the story, but the key is to check in at the beginning, during, AND after. Listen to the following 2-minute story and then read the notes that follow:


You-focused check-ins

Instead of simply going into my story and expecting my audience to follow along, I used you-focused check-ins to make sure my audience was constantly involved. You can do the same.

Let’s go back over exactly what I said to keep them engaged. Here are just some of the check-ins I used (along with when they occurred) in this 2-minute story

Before: Raise your hand if you feel like sometimes reality hurts?

Before: Have you ever stepped on a scale…and been forced to face reality?

During: Raise your hand if you have kids

During: Then you know the doctor is always going to measure their length and their…weight

During: I don’t know if you’ve ever been around somebody who just recently gave birth

After: Isn’t it interesting how, when things don’t seem to go our way…we don’t seem to measure up, it’s almost in our DNA to place the blame on somebody else.

 As you can see, you-focused check-ins are not always questions. At times they are statements you make that get your audience to reflect on their own situation. Whenever you know you have something in common with your audience, state it.

Why does this work?

You-focused check-ins work because of the following speaking truth:

When they reflect, you connect

In a sense, when you keep having your audience reflect on their own lives (i.e. facing reality, stepping on a scale, having their children measured, being around a person who recently gave birth, placing blame, etc.) they continue to connect it to your story. Their reflection builds your connection and keeps them interested. After all, they know the story is not just about you but it’s also about them. They took part in it!

Remember, people buy into what they help create. You-focused check-ins make them part of the creation process.


Considerations when checking in with your audience

  • They’re called You-focused check-ins for a reason. They use the word “You.” If you re-listen to that 2-minute speech, I guarantee you will find at least 20 “yous” in it. In fact, I counted 14 “yous” in the first minute alone. They are soft “yous” but they are “yous” nonetheless. I don’t like hard “yous” because they turn off audiences. Hard “yous” are when you say things like, “YOU have to do this and YOU have to do that.” That’s preaching. Soft “yous” are almost imperceptible.


  • If you know you have something in common with your audience (i.e. kids), use a you-focused check-in and get the affirmation. That will keep your audience engaged because they can relate.


  • When you check in with your audience, you should think about different you-focused questions you can ask them that get them to reflect on their own lives. However, as you have heard, you-focused statements work very well too. Mix it up. Ask some questions and make some statements.


  • You can also briefly step out of your scene and look at your audience as you check in with them. Then, as soon as the quick check-in is finished, you can immediately go back into your story with your characters speaking to each other rather than continuing to speak to your audience.


  • Really wait and acknowledge their response. For example, if you’ve asked them to raise their hands, look around the room and see them. Your audience wants to be seen by you so don’t do what many speakers do when they ask and ignore. If you make a statement such as “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone who just recently gave birth,” look for the nodding heads or smiles from people who are expressing “Yes, I have!” Then go on with your story.  


One Caveat with the Check-ins

Don’t take yourself out of the story too long with your check-in. If you do it will become invasive. Instead, be quick and subtle. If you leave the story for too long, it will simply frustrate your audience and soon they’ll give up following you.

Final thoughts:

When you check in, they won’t check out.

Craig Valentine

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