How to Shine by Making Your Audience the Stars of Your Speech (4 Ways)

One of my stars!

One of my stars!

Recently I received a phone call and an e-mail from an executive at an organization I spoke to 10 years ago. She said, “Can you speak at our conference again this year? We really enjoyed you last time!”

Now, please don’t take this as me being cocky, but I’m surprised they didn’t call sooner. Why? Because during the keynote 10 years ago, I made several of my audience members the stars of my speech. When you do that, you very often get invited back.

“When you make them the stars, you shine too”


Below are 4 ways you can shine as a speaker by making your audience members the stars of your speech


Way #1: Tell His/Her Story

Share a story about the person and either use his or her name or let the person self-identify if necessary. I usually use the person’s name if the story involves something that’s positive and helps him/her look good in the eyes of the audience. However, if it could be perceived as negative, I withhold the name and let that particular audience member identify herself if she pleases. Usually the person does just that.

For example, here is a quick story I told about one of my audience members in Pennsylvania years ago (you might have heard this clip before):

As you heard, she DID self-identify and was proud to have said what she said. This tool helped her become a star in my speech and we even stayed connected online afterwards.


Way #2: Give one audience member dialogue

This tool might seem a little trickier than the others but it’s actually quite simple. All you do is state what one of your audience members is likely thinking and say it out loud as if he/she’s saying it to you. For example, after an activity in which I asked my audience members to change 12 things about their appearance, here is what happened during the debriefing in Fairbanks, Alaska:

As you could tell, this generated lots of laughter but what you could not see was how much the person I mentioned was laughing. She enjoyed it the most and she became a temporary star of the speech. When you connect with one, you can connect with all.


Way #3: Use his or her name in a sentence

I can remember being in Les Brown’s audience when he looked at me and mentioned my name a few times from the stage. How do you think I felt? Like a star!

This tools is simple. All you need to do is insert an audience member’s name into whatever it is that you’re saying. For example, I might say, “…but Jake what I realized from this is that you master what you measure.”

This is straight-forward, simple, and to the point. But make no mistake about it, this simple act of mentioning someone’s name continues to deepen the connection with your entire audience because they know you see beyond the group to the individuals in it. Jake ever-so-slightly and temporarily becomes a star of the speech. Simple but powerful.


Way #4: Walk over and ask one person a question

The first three of these Ways have to do with content. However, this 4th Way has to do with delivery. I usually do this during my transitions from one point to another. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between finishing one point and setting up a new one.

For example, I often walk over to one person as if he or she is the only person in the room and ask, “Do you ever watch the Olympics?” When he says “Yes” I say, “Do you watch the track and field?” After I get a couple of yeses (I move on to another person if the original person says no) I say, “In real life, the real tragedy I see is that most people live on ‘get-set. They take their marks, they get-set, and then never go. Most people die on get-set…” Then I transition into my module about living on get-set.

Because the conversation (or simply their answer) often turns humorous, that person becomes one of the stars of the speech. Many times our interaction is something the audience members can laugh about once I am gone.

The personal touch of asking the question to one person helps also by keeping the rest of the audience members on their toes. After all, they’ll probably think, “I might be next.”


Final Thoughts on making your audience members the stars 

When you find ways to make individuals in your audience the stars of your speech, you automatically connect deeper with the group. Sometimes it’s because the group lives vicariously through the individual and thinks, “How would I respond to that?” Other times it’s because they realize that you actually see them as individuals and you are listening to and watching them just as they are listening to and watching you.

I don’t care so much about the reasons; I just care about the results. If you want to get re-hired time and time again, make them the stars and then enjoy as you shine with them.


Your Turn

How do you make your audience members the stars of your speech?

Having fun with my audience in South Africa



Craig Valentine

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