Public Speaking in the Age of Distraction: 3 Tips to Win Your Audience

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Women make excellent public speakers. And I’ve had the privilege of observing many on stage, or captivating large ballroom audiences. Some female presenters are funny, friendly and emotive. Others are bolshy and witty.

But I’m sitting here thinking that it’s a sad state of affairs when I need to preface a piece with this declaration. As if this were news, and not a truism. But anecdotally, it seems that women are judged more harshly than men when they take to the stage or stand up in front of a crowd.

And that’s not fair. Public speaking is hard enough as is without an additional layer of scrutiny being thrust onto you. Take the example of wonderful classicist and TV historian Mary Beard, known for her prolific body of exceptional work with the BBC. She gets stick for her appearance in a way that male historians never would.

So, let’s make this piece relevant to all public speakers, but also specifically to those wonderful and brave ladies who regularly take to the stage, the auditorium, or do their stuff every day in the pressure cooker of live TV.

Here are my top three tips for being the most memorable speaker in the room in the age of distracted audiences.

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1. It’s not personal

Your audience is usually a bit distracted. Fact. We all carry around those little glass and metal slabs that poke and prod and ding and drive us to a fury of distraction with incessant notifications.

For a public speaker, it’s very hard to have someone in the audience keeps looking their phone. But from chats with both male and female public speakers, I’ve realized they react in different ways. Men get combative because they don’t like being ignored. I’m one of them – I’ll probably make a joke, pick on someone, and perhaps even turn it into a schtick.

But a couple of my female public speaking colleagues have said that someone on the phone makes them think they’re not being liked. I suspect that men care less about being liked than women do – because we’re rather full of ourselves generally.

Takeaway: Audiences are distracted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. You’ll have someone looking at their phone every single time you speak in public – and you need to rehearse a strategy to deal with that situation. Either let it go the first time or confront with humor.

2. What’s your body doing?

I’ve seen stressed men on stage. They pace. Their movements become jerky. Their speech quickens. The adrenaline causes the voice to pitch higher. But Dave Yewman says women under stress on stage react differently. Hey tend to fold up and try to occupy less space.

For men, the solution is to slow down. For women, Dave contends that – counterintuitively – speakers hold an object like a microphone or clicker that prevents them from folding their arms and trying to become inconspicuous.

Paying attention to these physical cues is essential, because about 55% of communication is non-verbal. What you’re doing is actually more important than what you’re saying and helps keep your audience interested. And there’s more: Open body language with power positions actually boosts testosterone – even in females – making you braver.

Gestures such as open palms, firm handshakes, and confident stances help create a sense of trust in the speaker. By cultivating positive body language in yourself, you can establish an expressive environment where audience members will feel enabled to hear what you have to say. Consider using online resources like YouTube tutorials or participating in advanced public speaking training programs to receive customized guidance regarding your strengths and weaknesses and ensure that you feel comfortable, confident, and prepared when delivering your speech. 

Takeaway: Fake it till you make it when it comes to body language. Open body language and power positions will release hormones that actually make you braver – and therefore more open and physically expressive.

3. Don’t believe, think or assume

If there was one difference between some male speakers and some female ones, it would be that socialization has taught women to preface their statements with qualifiers and caveats. “I think,” “I believe,” “I assume,” “I’m led to believe,” and so on. Men make bald statements, even when there’s not much authority to them.

Forbes says that weak language reduces the effectiveness of a presentation.

“I’m convinced that even if we take one small step and eliminate the word “just” from our communication, we will see a huge difference in the way we are perceived in the workplace,” says Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus.

Now, a few qualifiers are useful in varying sentence structure and presentation flow. They’re also great when delivering deadpan jokes. But too many of them in a single speech knock the strength out of it. Importantly, your distractible audience will have to deal with more unnecessary words coming out of your month. Never a good idea.

Takeaway: Watch those qualifiers. Say it with confidence, not with a caveat.


I hope this helps, even a little bit. Now go out there and knock them dead.

About the Author

Hisham Wyne is an internationally recognized MC, broadcaster, presenter and moderator who helps the world’s best-known brands create memorable occasions. He regularly hosts conferences, panel sessions, gala dinners and award ceremonies for some of the world’s best brands. With 150+ events under his belt, Hisham is the professional speaker that brands and agencies turn to when wanting to interview, engage and entertain government VVIPs and Hollywood celebrities.

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