Being a speaker or presenter is a very appealing profession for a lot of people, myself included. However today a lot of people have to present as part of their job, not as part of a jet setting lifestyle. Many business owners find themselves in front of groups to pitch their products and services, in fact the very future of their company depends on how well they get their message across.
Regardless of how you present, or whom you present to, if you can't capture your audience your messages will be lost. Having been a presenter for many years, I've had my fair share of good presentations and plenty where I bombed. The key is to engage your audience, which is easier said than done. These are my 7 fundamentals to help capture any audience.
1. Capture the mood of the room and mirror it to get started (the stealth opening).
I'm a big believer in arriving early to any event where I speak. Not only does this give me time to do some homework on the venue and to make sure that my presentation is good to go, it also lets me assess the mood of the audience. As a speaker you need to know where your audience is at mood wise to engage them early on. If they are flat and you start dancing around on stage, trying to get people to hug each other, it won't work. You have to start a little more slowly and a little more gently and then build up. I have two openings planned for every presentation that I do - one for an upbeat, energized audience and one for a flat, low energy group. Spending time at the back of the room and chatting to attendees over a coffee, lets me determine which opening is appropriate for them.
2. Start on common ground.
I recently watched a great TED talk by Matt Chan, the producer of the television series Hoarders. He is a great storyteller and certainly someone who isn't afraid of getting down and dirty with his stories. In his TED talk he makes mention of the need to start with common ground with your audience. Start with what they know, not what you know and I think this is a wonderful piece of advice. As an example, when I'm talking to small business audiences, I open by sharing the story of the first business I bought over 30 years ago and the pile of mistakes I made every single day. They love it, they laugh out loud and they know that I understand them and the challenges they face.
3. Treat them with absolute respect.
For me this is totally non-negotiable. Any presenter who doesn't treat their audience with absolute respect doesn't deserve to capture them. How do you do this? You respect their time, never be late, you respect what they already know or do, never saying they are wrong but perhaps offering an alternative. You never put anyone in the audience down and you show your respect with courtesy and appreciation.
4. Make them laugh.
Making an audience laugh is not as easy as it seems. Comedians make it look easy, but it really isn't. What has always worked for me is to use self depreciating humor, in other words I make fun of myself, my own faults and failings (which is generally what comedians do as well I might add). Making jokes about yourself also ensure that you don't upset anyone in the audience.
5. Make them cry.
What is the best way to really create engagement - be open, be honest, be vulnerable and be absolutely authentic. If you've got some tough stories, tell them. If you've failed, tell that story. If you've overcome adversity, share the journey. Every single presentation I have done over the past 30 years where I have opened up, been vulnerable and shared my own story (growing up as an orphan with a lot of violence) I have created very strong engagement with the audience (hear a pin drop engagement). Sometimes as a speaker you need to be brave enough to share your stories, particularly the personal ones, but if you are serious about wanting to help people, do it.
6. Make them think.
Having just done a TEDx talk myself, with my topic being "Imagine if we were 33% less angry" I understand completely that a great presentation doesn't just make people laugh, or cry, it also makes the audience think. Perhaps it makes them question their beliefs or the way they do something or react to something, or challenges their point of view. Or maybe it just shows them a whole new world that they didn't know existed before, and that in its own right is thought provoking. It doesn't really matter how we make people think as long as we make them think.
7. Live up to the story you tell.
A little while back I was at an event, waiting my turn to present. The man on stage was doing a great job talking about the importance of treating people with kindness and respect and not letting the inconsequential things bother you. He departed to stage to a rousing applause, walked past me without acknowledging me and then set about abusing the audiovisual controller because he felt that his microphone wasn't loud enough. He really let the poor fella have it - and as I was being clapped onto the stage I could actually hear the speaker starting to yell.
The message here is that once you leave the stage, you still have a commitment to your audience and that is to live up to the expectation of who you were on the stage. A lot of speakers forget this, and sadly they develop a reputation for being insincere, shallow and two faced.
Live authentically, present authentically. Never give your audience a reason to be disappointed with you on the stage or off.