Friday, July 23, 2010

Engage with your audience

How many times have you been to presentations that sound like a boring lecture? Perhaps they were formula-based and didn’t take your needs or interests into account. You probably used the time to daydream or make a mental “to-do” list rather than strive to listen to the message buried within.

As a speaker, have you ever been so intent on driving home your point that you didn’t notice the audience’s interest pique or wane? If they were engaged in what you were saying, did you smile to reward them? If you noticed the audience’s attention wane, were you nimble enough to insert a quick joke? Something like, “I see a few heads nodding, the caffeine must be wearing off.”

Pay attention to how the audience reacts to you so you can adjust your speech accordingly. 
Witnessing lots of yawns is never a good sign. If this happens, change the cadence of your speech or step out from behind the lectern and walk around. Make sure your mike doesn’t yank you back to home base.
Men are more likely to sit stone-faced than woman. Don’t take that as a bad sign, it often means that they are processing the information. When telling emotional stories, expect more facial reactions from women, who are more open in revealing emotions. Visual reactions from the audience can guide you to adjust your presentation to better engage with the unique individuals in front of you.

Don’t be afraid to use props – nothing outrageous, but well-timed objects that relate to the presentation allow for a welcome break. It also reinforces your message. If you’re talking about a general distain for cold calls when making a sales presentation, produce an old-fashioned receiver with a cord and pretend to make a call.  I did just that when I made a presentation to a group of mediators – including many lawyers – and it got a hearty laugh. It also reinforced the message: every professional needs to make cold calls periodically. 

Humor can make a strong connection with your audience. You don’t have to rattle off one-liners, but some of your graphics should have a funny picture or a quirky message. Lighten it up and the audience will be much more responsive.

You have a message to deliver but you don’t have to force feed it to your audience. Take their reaction as a cue to adjust your presentation on the spot and build a better relationship with them. Ultimately, you want your audience to not only remember your message but to remember you.