Videos, speeches, and presentations all call for a little something extra to keep your audience captivated. Speaking with an active, concise, and powerful voice helps keep your listeners engaged throughout your entire presentation.

Try these tips for using strong, active voice to engage your audience. 

Mastering active voice

“Voice” is an important element of speech and writing. With “active voice,” the subject completes an action. In “passive voice,” something is done to the subject.

Active voice: “I’m going to lead an engaging lesson on environmental law.”

Passive voice: “An engaging lesson on environmental law will be lead by me.”

The active example is clearer, more compelling, and straightforward. For these reasons, active voice is preferred for most verbal and written communication; however, it is especially vital in videos and live presentations when you’ve got an audience to engage. Passive voice in these instances can sound a bit boring for your listeners, and you want their undivided attention from start to finish.

Be concrete

In her text, Public Speaking: Concepts and Skills for a Diverse Society, 8th Edition, author Clella Jaffe explains that presentations are also more effective and engaging when the speaker uses “concrete” words:

Another way to help your listeners form precise understandings is to choose concrete words that are specific rather than abstract, particular rather than general. Words range along a scale of abstraction such as this:

Abstract/general:

  • animal
  • vertebrate
  • mammal
  • dog

Concrete/particular:

  • greyhound

When you say “I adopted a greyhound” your ideas are much more concrete than when you say “I adopted a dog.” But that is more concrete than “I adopted an animal.” The more distinct your word choices, the more vivid your images, and the more precise your meanings. (154-155)

Choose powerful language

Powerful language gets to the point without a lot of hesitations. This lets your audience know that you’re sure of yourself and your information–and that you’re not hoping to confuse them with unimportant “fluff.”

It’s easy to stumble in to powerless language, which can can give the impression that you lack confidence. Author Clella Jaffe provides a few of the most common forms of powerless language in student speeches:

Hedges: Words called hedges, such as sort of, kinda, I guess, or maybe, make you seem less sure of yourself.

Tag Questions: Short questions at the end of a sentence, or tag questions (such as isn’t it? Or doesn’t it?), invite the audience to agree with your conclusions. They are not always bad, but try to avoid two annoying repetitions: OK? And you know?

Disclaimers: Audiences use “disclaimers” to form doubts about your credibility or your competence on a topic. 

  • I’m no expert on this but …
  • This may sound crazy but …
  • I don’t really know, but I’m guessing that …


Be sure of your information, and avoid powerless forms of language.
(158)

Keep these tips in mind as you prepare your next presentation or film your next video. You’ll craft a more engaging message by utilizing active voice and concise wording, as well as by ensuring your language is powerful and appropriate for the audience, topic, and situation.

Reference: Jaffe, Clella. 2016. Public Speaking: Concepts and Skills for a Diverse Society, 8th Edition. BostonCengage Learning.

What attribute do you find most compelling in videos and presentations? Share your insights below.