One of my favorite things to do to regain the attention of a group of people when public speaking is to, well, act a little silly. I have always found that singing a little bit breaks people out of the monotony of listening to any kind of presentation.
For instance, if I were giving this article as a presentation, I would break out into a few lines of the old Hollywood song “Mister Monotony.” Interestingly enough, the worse you are at singing, the more effective this is. This breaks up a speech, but it also shows your willingness to be a little vulnerable and silly. Both are things that are likely to endear you to almost any group of people.
Sometimes, I also start singing the “Happy Birthday” song and ask if there are any birthdays in the audience. Inevitably, there’s a recent birthday and people are obligated to sing to the birthday person. When everyone sings, they quite literally jostle their brains.
Time Magazine says, “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape.” And that’s exactly what you want if something has gone south during your presentation — to alter the physical and emotional landscape of your audience.
Dancing also helps. I often have an energetic playlist ready and have been known to ask the sound team to “pump up the volume” for an audience dance break. Usually, people are reluctant to participate, which often makes me feel ridiculous, but neither of those things matter. Because dancing raises the heart rate of your audience and often shimmies them out of a funk.
Anything you can do to be a little offbeat is fantastic for morale and for rousing an unenthusiastic group of spectators. Jokes, magic tricks, fun personal anecdotes, dogs, babies, and wardrobe changes — if it’s novel, fun, and appropriate, it can help you win back the attention when you’re speaking in public.
And, while you’re acting a little crazy, don’t be afraid to say why you are doing it. “I’m going to do a quick Superbowl-style wardrobe change to liven you all up!”