As a television anchor, I'm used to being in front of a camera. What I'm not used to is speaking to a room full of blinking, live human beings. It's one thing to stare into a camera lens; it's quite another to feel the collective breath and energy of a banquet hall and hope you don't fall flat.

You don't have to be 6'7″ or run around with boundless energy to stand out to an audience (think the public speaking greats like Tony Robbins and Gary Vaynerchuk). What I believe helps me connect with an audience is authentic content. I like to know my audience, and then I spend hours researching topics that I think challenge and appeal to them. Being able to command a room from one point onstage means you have to know what your listeners are there to hear and to elicit emotions in them.

The leaders below have given many great presentations in their time. Here are a few of their tips for captivating an audience:

  1. Preparation. "When it comes to speaking, the three laws are preparation, preparation, and preparation," says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The trick is to prepare so much that by the time you stand up onstage to speak it almost seems off the cuff. The best presentations are the ones that feel like the speaker is talking casually to you, as if he or she had made this all up along the way. "What you've got to do is prepare in a way that then it looks natural and effortless," Haass says.
  2. Bullet points. Connecting with an audience is extremely difficult when you are reading off a sheet of paper. Bullet points are a great way to build up a natural rapport with the people in front of you. They also keep you on a natural track and "story arc." Jack Welch explained why he shies away from a typed-out speech. "What I wanted to do was show ... the passion, how much I cared about it, and my job was to turn them on to a few key points."
  3. Engage the audience quickly. "You have to do something in the first couple of seconds to engage them," says Mitch Roschelle. The former standup comedian says jokes go a long way in persuading the audience to climb aboard and hear you out. The PwC partner and business development leader has some zingers that he uses to "try to engage the audience as quickly as I can to make them part of the conversation. So then I really feel like I'm talking to them, as opposed to talking at them."
  4. Tell a story. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways you can communicate with your audience. Stories command the person to listen from the beginning to the end and creates a sense of trust because of the authentic connection. As Mindy Grossman, Weight Watchers International CEO, says: "People are going to remember how you made them feel." (Now, ain't that the truth!)
  5. Enjoy it (even if you're nervous as heck). Nothing is more painful for an audience than watching someone struggle onstage. Even if you aren't enjoying giving your presentation, at least try to pretend that you are. Who knows, you might even kid yourself into having a good time. Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington says "enjoying it makes a difference, because you're really present, and you have a real, sometimes magical communication with your audience."
  6. It's not about you. Every audience member wants to feel special, and your job onstage is to help make the audience feel that it's an honor to speak to them. As the president of High Point University, Nido Qubein, points out: "A speech is never about the speaker. The presentation is about the audience." No matter whether someone is seated in row 1 or row 55, every audience member wants to feel like he or she is being spoken to individually. Everyone is "in the room" so to speak--they're all in this together for the next 45 minutes of your speech.
  7. Authenticity. It's sometimes difficult to come across as completely yourself in a presentation. No matter what, speaking onstage to hundreds of people is not something most people do in their daily lives. Richard Socarides, head of public affairs at GLG, addresses this problem by approaching a presentation this way: "I think of myself as just having a conversation with the person who's sitting across from me. And what I would say to that person authentically if we were having lunch, or having coffee, or just meeting for the first time."
  8. Be adaptive. The worst presentations are those that plow on regardless of how the audience is reacting. You can't bow to every whim of the audience, but if something appears to really resonate with listeners, follow it through. As Andrew Yang, the founder of Venture for America, recommends: "You have to engage with people; you need to ask questions ... you need to let them know that what you are doing is just for them, and you're genuinely going to change course depending upon what they do or what they ask or what they think."
Published on: Mar 6, 2018