Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

It's easy to make an audience feel so engaged with you that they're mentally applauding long before the end. Here are the tips that stand out - from hundreds of training workshops with thousands of trainees - as simple yet powerful ways to slip the engagement ring on the audience finger. (Yes, there is a catch - wouldn't you know it? - and I'll tell you about it after this list.)

Speak about the topic and your audience

Your audience is only interested in your topic when it overlaps with their interests. Plan it that way. And speak that way. For example, phrases like You might be concerned that and So, how's it going to affect you? are excellent engagement material. Resolve to make liberal use of the word you.

Like your audience

It's not just about the topic. It's a fundamental human desire that those who speak to us like us. Like, appreciate, enjoy. It must show in your eyes in the same way that your eyes are warm when you meet someone you like in the corridor.
And it must show right from the first glance and greeting. When you say 'Good morning everyone,' do your eyes and tone say, I like you? Or do your eyes and tone say I wish I had missed the bus this morning. If it's the second one, then actually you did miss the bus.

Look and sound interested in your audience

I call it being earnest. Move your eye contact eagerly from one person to another. Seek them out with expression and tone conveying: I'm interested in how my topic is going down with you. Try it in front of a mirror. Typically, your eyebrows will be up, horizontal lines will appear in your forehead (yes, cancel the botox treatment).

Be extra emphatic

Be significantly more emphatic with your body language (typically arms and hands) and your voice. Audiences want you to make that effort for them. You might want to practise on a friend first, asking, "Am I overdoing it? Does it make me look and sound like a clown?"

Project your voice

Mentally double the distance to the furthest part of your audience, then speak out as if the audience really is that big. At first, most presenters can't believe that it works. They object, "But that's shouting at everyone." Then they're astonished by the reactions of the other trainees: "It's not shouting, it's just right." and "It makes you sound authorititave." "It makes you sound as if you know what you're talking about." (This works even when you have a microphone.)

The catch

Have you worked it out already? That list won't help you if you're too self-conscious. That's because the more you focus on your own suffering and survival, the less you can focus on the audience. And they know it! If you're self-conscious, they might sympathise, but they just won't feel engaged. So here's another idea with proven traction.

Have the courage to be imperfect

One of my trainees so impressed everyone else that after a couple of hours they said to him, "What are you doing here? You don't need this training." It was a great thing to happen because when we analysed his presentation on video playback, we discovered lots of mistakes.

What? How could that be?

It's because making mistakes didn't bother him, so it didn't bother them. He was perfectly happy with who he was and his own imperfections. When you're relaxed about your mistakes, the audience just doesn't notice most of them, and those they do they forgive instantly. It's a big mistake to think that impressive presentations have anything to do with perfection. Relaxed confidence is way more important.

Actually, that trainee decided to stay anyway.

Warmly engage an audience right from the "Good morning". You'll never look back.

Have fun.

Michael

About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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