The Secret to Keep Your Audience from Checking Out

Doing check-ins in Bali, Indonesia

Doing check-ins in Bali, Indonesia

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 all of 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:

When you check in they won’t check out

You-focused Check-ins

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 before, during, and after. Watch just the first 2-minutes of this story and then read the notes that follow:

Using 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. Did you hear my audience staying 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 (you didn’t see this part but this is what I said afterwards)

Note: I used “our” in this instance because I wanted to include myself in this less-than-flattering habit.


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.

A moment after a check-in with students at the University of Pittsburgh

A moment after a check-in with students at the University of Pittsburgh

5 Considerations when checking in with your audience

Consideration #1 – Use a soft “you”

They’re called You-focused check-ins for a reason. They usually use the word “You” or “Your.” If you re-listen to that 2-minute story, you will find at least 12 “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.


Consideration #2 – Search for what you have in common

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.


Consideration #3 – Use Questions and Statements

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.


Consideration #4 – Step out of your Scene

You can also briefly step out of your scene and look at your audience as you check in with them. This is something I taught in my course called Dynamic Delivery Devices, which is included in my Speak and Prosper Academy. 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.


Consideration #5 – Acknowledge their responses and/or reactions

Really wait and acknowledge their response. For example, if you’ve asked them to raise their hands, look around the room and see whose hands are up. 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 or people who are expressing “Yes, I have!” Then go on with your story.

3 Caveats when doing You-focused Check-ins

Caveat #1 – Don’t take yourself out of the story too long with your check-in. It should be quick and subtle and along the path of your story. If you leave the story for too long, it will simply frustrate your audience and soon they’ll give up following you.

Caveat #2 – Don’t check-in the same way each time because then the audience will feel like it’s just a technique.

Caveat #3 – Don’t force it or overdo it. If it’s a natural question you feel like you really want the answer to or a statement that you can make organically along the path of the story, it should be okay. On the other hand, if you just keep asking, “Has that ever happened to you?” or “Have you ever felt that way?” your audience will start thinking, “Why does this speaker keep stopping to ask me if I understand him?”

Final Thought

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


You Have to See It to Believe It

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Craig Valentine

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