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Seduce Your Audience Like Bobby McFerrin: 5 Tricks

Leading a meeting or brainstorming session and want to get your group to loosen up and forget their fear of embarrassment? Musician Bobby McFerrin has the answers.
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A few weeks ago we offered scientifically validated presentation tips from author Susan Weinschenk. Now, on her blog, she's offering another tidbit of public speaking advice from her forthcoming book 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, and this time the recommendation stems from the self-evident truth that people don't like to look silly in front of others.

Most of us aren't keen to feel embarrassed by stepping away from the group and doing something that might make us look stupid—not unless we have a compelling reason to anyway. Speakers, whether they're leading a small team meeting, a brainstorming session or are addressing a packed conference space, on the other hand, often want audiences to speak up and participate. The audience's desire to keep their heads down to spare their blushes is directly at odds with the speakers' desire to have them actively engage with the presentation. How can we bridge this divide?

For inspiration, Weichschenk looks far afield to musician Bobby McFerrin, best known for his memorable hit Don't Worry, Be Happy. McFerrin's infectious music might seem a world away from your sales data PowerPoint presentation, but Weinshenk insists the same techniques McFerrin uses to get his audiences singing along with and contributing to his concerts can help you lure your audience into a more participatory frame of mind by lulling their fear of embarrassment. How does McFerrin accomplish this? Check out this super entertaining three-minute TED video to get some idea:

If you watched, you're probably smiling now, but besides boosting your mood, what else should you have gotten out of the video?

Weinshenk explains that the key to getting a buttoned up TED audience to start singing is social validation and safety. McFerrin moves people towards increased participation as a group, never asking any one person to boldly step out in front, nudging them slowly from the simplest actions to more complicated and possibly embarrassment-inducing ways of participation. Through body language and facial expressions he also reassures people that they're doing great and should feel safe to come out of their shells. It may all seem like a bit of a mysterious gift of McFerrin's but Weinshenck boils this ability down to five simple tips you can use to lure your audiences into participating. She writes:

  •  Start slow. Have people do one small activity before an activity that is longer or more complicated.
  • Make sure it's always safe. Don't ask people to do anything they are not comfortable doing, especially at the beginning.
  • Humor is good for making people relax, but don't make fun of people as a form of humor, or the entire audience will start to feel unsafe.
  • Research shows that synchronicity bonds people together—when people do something together, such as clap, laugh, raise their hand to a question, it bonds the group. A bonded group feels safe, so ask your audience to do something all together and the group will bond.
  • Be confident. If you are the leader people will follow you.

Want more public speaking tips? Weinshenk's book is out on May 14.

What makes you more likely to participate in a meeting or group discussion?

Last updated: May 10, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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