3 ways to make your complex topic more engaging

6 min readOct 8, 2020

Policy-making, technical presentations, or scientific issues can be serious business. But sometimes, in aiming to convey the seriousness of the topic, speakers can be downright boring.

When a presentation fails to engage the audience, it has a detrimental effect on the ability to have the message heard, remembered, adopted, and acted on.

In the current climate, when most conferences and presentations have moved online, this has become even more important. With the absence of face-to-face sessions, engaging audiences has become a tad more difficult, and speakers really need to put in the extra effort to ensure that they can still engage their audiences, even if that’s through a screen now.

But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Rather, this is a great time to rediscover yourself as a speaker and explore various other avenues that you maybe never even knew existed. Instead of looking at this time as putting a dent in your speaking career, look at it as a time period where you can fully realize your potential by working on rebuilding yourself as a speaker who can adapt to any situation and environment.

Here are three simple ways to make your complex topic more engaging.

Tip 1: Lead by example: Show your enthusiasm.

If you cannot get behind your topic, your ability to convince anyone else to do so instantly diminishes.

Even if the audience is behind a screen, they will still be able to detect your lack of enthusiasm and interpret it as disinterest. They will think you are insecure about the topic, or that it is irrelevant. When they feel these vibes from you, this will cause a disconnect, and the audience too will become disinterested in what you have to say.

Your energy about the topic will have a dramatic effect on your talk:

Find the aspects that are most important to you. Each presentation has a focal aspect, whether talking about policy, research, or any other topic. Imagine what the outcome will be if the policy can be implemented or if the scientific research leads to a major breakthrough, and show your passion for that outcome.

Use this to energize your talk.

Understand what drives your audience. Find examples to make your talk relevant for them. Before we present, we are all aware that we have a target audience. Our presentation should aim to address the needs of this target audience. Why are you presenting to this specific audience? What impact can they have on the issue that you talk about, and vice versa, how can your topic impact their lives?

If you want the audience to get behind you, make their role clear from the get-go. If you can make your audience members feel this is relevant for their lives, they will be more likely to be invested in what you are saying.

Find an interesting angle. There is no such thing as a boring topic, only boring angles. Comedians like Louis C.K. or John Oliver (host of Last Week Tonight) know this well — they can talk about a mortgage, US infrastructure, or payday loans in the most engaging manner. The angle is how you present your topic to your audience.

Clearly outline your angle in your introduction, this will position your topic in your listener’s mind. An interesting angle can make even the so-called boring topics seem interesting and will help you engage your audience even more.

Tip 2: Switch things up regularly.

According to a study conducted by John Medina, New York Times best-selling author of “Brain Rules”, an audience’s attention will start to wane after a mere 10 minutes.

It is extremely difficult for the majority of people to stay focused on a long, unchanging monologue. Our brains are programmed to pay attention to things that are changing.

Use this fact to your advantage by changing up your presentation regularly.

Add lots of different elements to your talk:
The quickest way to make sure your audience gets bored is to keep things monotonous. With a dozen things that could distract them, you can’t afford to be boring if you want to be effective. This is especially true in these times where you are not physically present in front of your audience. It is even more important now to add a variety of elements to your presentation/talk.

Switch from using strong imagery, to polling your audience, to showing relevant video clips. You need to keep your audience anticipating that something new is just around the corner.

Like Eric Sims says, you can even have a guest speaker speak for 10–15 minutes during your talk, just to add more flavour and to keep the audience interested.

Make it relevant with storytelling and anecdotes: A common issue with policy and technical talks is that they are too theoretical. When a topic is too abstract, it is difficult for the audience to see the relevance.

Combat this with storytelling. All you need to do is start a sentence with: “I remember one time when…”, and the rest will come naturally.

Support facts with real-life examples, connect with the audience by giving them personal anecdotes. Often, stories can solidify abstract ideas and make complicated issues a lot easier to understand.

Sometimes your stories may even resonate with audience members because they might have had a somewhat similar experience themselves. This will help them understand your talk better as now they will be able to relate to it personally

Keep your content short and memorable. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing information. They use well-thought-out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning. Don’t ramble, stay relevant. You know the saying ‘short and sweet’? Well that works well in the speaking business too.

Tip 3: Make your talk feel like a conversation rather than a lecture.

Lean on your personal experience. Talks that mainly comprise statistics, technobabble, numerical data, and abstract ideas rarely leave the audience wanting more (or remembering anything afterwards).

Even if it is necessary to include such information, you should weave in an element of storytelling and something to give relevance. Talk about your own experience in going through the information and why you find it interesting and relevant.

Simplify your data by drawing on lots of examples from everyday life that your audience will be familiar with. This will make your message stick with the audience because they will be able to visualize it more clearly.

Ultimately, we all have similar experiences, and bringing in an element of this connectivity into your talk will make it more engaging.

Use clear, understandable language

Stop using jargon, overused metaphors and cliches. Talks which are convoluted and overly complicated are hard to engage with.

Get your audience to engage with you through polling.

Polls work for three reasons:

  1. They make the audience members stop and think. Whether they agree or disagree, you are getting your audience members to stop, think, and engage with the message or idea. Polls are always a great way to involve your audience in your topic.
  2. It is experiential. Answering a question is a different experience to passively sitting and listening. It forces the audience members to form ideas and opinions about what they are hearing. This simple interaction can have long-lasting resonance with the participants.
  3. It gives a different impression of the talk. There is a difference between sitting and watching, and participating in a group experience. Adding a poll will leave the audience members feeling that they have been part of what happened.

There are numerous apps available that make polling very easy, like PollEverywhere, Sli.do, Turning Technologies, Direct Poll, and Opinion Stage. Also many streaming platforms include polling capability. Polls are usually very simple to use and they get instant results.

If you frequently speak about policy, technical, or scientific issues, what do you do to make your talks engaging? What do you always avoid? Let us know here.

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An earlier version of this post was written by Esther Snippe featured on SpeakerHub on 31 August 2016. See the original article here.