It took me a while to realise why some presenters were much better in capturing their audience’s attention than the others. Initially, I thought it was purely down to the natural talent of an individual, but the more I studied and tested the subject the more I realised that speaking well publicly was a skill that could be obtained.
I have come to conclusion that delivering presentations that are memorable and enjoyable both to the audience as well as the speaker depends highly on how well the speaker can predict and influence their audience’s emotions.
I could sum up this whole blog post with the following quote from the poet, Maya Angelou:
‘They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’.
I am fortunate to have continuous opportunity to test what works and what doesn’t during my training sessions. It took me though a couple of years to understand what really makes people listen and enjoy the time spent listening to you.
Here is a list of things to consider if you wish to be an engaging speaker:
Why are you doing it?
Firstly, before you start to speak (and ideally not on the day of your speech), ask yourself why are you doing it. What is your goal that motivated you to make a decision to speak on this particular subject? The best answers are those that include ‘to help others’ and ‘to give back’. If at any point you come to a conclusion that you do that only from the following reasons: ‘I want to feel important, be famous, tell people what to do etc.) perhaps you should reconsider speaking and go back to the drawing board. Great speakers all have a mission – something that they feel passionate about and want to share with the larger audience. This gives them purpose and with that comes energy and enthusiasm necessary to convey the message.
Why are they doing it?
The second question that you need to ask yourself is about your audience’s mindset. What’s in it for them? Why are they here and they are hoping to achieve by listening to you? Most of us think of ourselves and our time time first and foremost therefore understanding the motivation of your audience will help you deliver meaningful and interesting presentations.
Manage your mood first!
The moment you stand up in front of your audience you become responsible for the atmosphere in the room. Moods, emotions and language used are contagious, especially if listening to someone for a long time. If you want to be a successful speaker, you need to find ways of keeping your energy and mood levels high! Sleeping well, eating healthy, nutritious food, doing exercise whatever it is that make your heart beat faster and make it joyful. Coffee works magic for me! 🙂 These are just a few basics but what plays the biggest role here (once again) is your motivation! If your reason for speaking publicly is strong enough then not much can stop you from performing well.
I have recently delivered a 3-day long presentation the day after a close person to me suddenly passed away. I had a perfect reason to either cancel the event or deliver one of my worst trainings ever, but instead I moved my focus from my emotions to the emotions of the audience. They didn’t know what happened and they simply shouldn’t know – as far as they were concerned they came from all over the world and were there to learn and enjoy their time and I was there to teach them and, to my best ability, provide great experience despite whatever happened in my private life.
You will not be able to influence others if you can’t influence yourself!
This is extremely important because if you don’t behave vigorously and enthusiastically, you cannot expect this type of reaction from your audience. Think of yourself as being a manager of emotions both yours and your audience’s during the time that you speak!
We all have bad days but your bad one should never become someone else’s!
Ask for their names
At the beginning of the meeting (if you speaking in front of a small group), ask everyone to introduce themselves. Write down each one of their names in your notepad. If you are not sure how to say a specific name, make them repeat it or even spell it for you. This will make it much easier for you to get everyone engaged in the conversation as there are few better feelings then knowing that someone paid attention to your name. Moreover, showing people that you remember their name makes them feel important and instantly rises your likability status!
Maintain eye contact
When presenting, maintain the eye contact with everyone, when you speak look at them not the slides or your computer. That way once again you make feel everyone equally important and enhance the feeling of caring for their good experience.
Make them feel comfortable
Invite feedback and questions. Thank for each question before answering it. Every input should be recognised and acknowledged. Listen carefully to every word said by your listeners as if this was the most important part of the training. Make everyone feel that you are there for them, not for your own ego.
Observe your audience!
Look at their facial expressions and body language. If they don’t look happy do something about it -if they look confused ask them what they are thinking of, see if there is any extra explanation needed. If they look annoyed or bored- try to find out what is causing it by asking questions. Take breaks to ask if the audience understands or whether you should repeat anything. If you see people writing down things, let them finish before you continue – show them that you care. Control the speed of going through the content based on people’s reaction.That way you will show them that you care about everyone getting the most out of the session.
Watch your body language!
People pay attention not only to your words but also your non-verbal communication. Your body language can say much more, much quicker about how you feel towards your audience. Learn how to control it.
Our smile is one of your most powerful tools so use it! People listen to people who they like and smiling definitely helps in achieving his. Smile! Look like you enjoy what you present – if you don’t, your audience won’t either!
Wake up the sleepers 😉
If you apply all the points mentioned above, it is highly unlikely that this will happen, however, if it does you need to act immediately as soon as you observe this. You need to be as delicate as possible since you don’t want to make them embarrassed. Call their name and ask them a question but do that gently e.g. say ‘And I can tell that Marco agrees’, ‘rather than ‘What do you think Marco?’. The difference is that Marco can just say ‘yes’ to the first question avoiding embarrassment whereas the second one would expose his lack of attention very clearly . At the end of the day, you want to create a safe environment.
Alternatively, if you see that people are falling asleep you could modulate your voice tone bysay something louder or faster,slower or quieter. Introduce the change and people will start wondering what happened and start listening again.
Manage difficult attendees
If one attendee struggles to understand and keep on asking questions about the things that the rest of group is easily following – offer them extra time during coffee or lunch break to explain the things that are not clear. Also, if you see that some attendees are talking with each other while you speak, approach them immediately and ask if there is anything you should go through again. 9 out of 10 times this will stop them talking for good!
Have more ideas how to engage your audience? Please share below so that we could all learn 🙂