It will be no surprise that your credibility with an audience is strongly linked to how they feel about you. And—again no surprise—they’ll develop that feeling very early, often in seconds, sometimes in the first couple of minutes. Try these two suggestions.

Give the greeting life

Could it be more obvious? And yet how often do we hear the opposite? The speaker opens in a tone flatter than a funeral march: "I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks for the opportunity..." (Thanks? With a monotone? No way. No-one who means it says it like that.) " speak to you today and to say what a pleasure it is..." (Pleasure? In a dull monotone? I don't think so.) Confronted with this apparent insincerity, the audience decides before the end of the sentence that this is unlikely to be a pleasure for them.

We don't do that to real people, so why do it to an audience? If you don't feel grateful, don't say thank you. If you don't feel pleasure, don't say you do. But if you can or do feel either—and if you’re serious about presenting well, you’d better have such feelings—say so with enthusiasm and warmth. Then enjoy the instantaneous jump in audience engagement. Say it 'like you mean it!'

Interact directly and early

This is especially useful for those of us who suffer from nerves in the first few minutes. The moment you interact directly, the initial awkwardness and tensions begin to dissolve. The whole energy of your performance lifts, genuine warmth comes into your eyes and you become more at ease and natural. Some speakers are afraid of audience interaction and ask their audiences to hold questions to the end, not realizing what a gift they're throwing away. But the same people are converts once they've tried deliberate early interaction.

How to do it? Here are a few suggestions that work best in medium to small audiences:

Use someone's name. "I shouldn't tell you this. Dale will have it in the company newsletter before the tea break..."

Ask a non-rhetorical question. "Who has been having difficulty with the new software?” Look around expectantly. No response? Then insist. “Give me an indication?” Now, you might pick on someone who raises a hand. “John, what happened for you?”

Reflect the mood and invite comment. “Good morning. I know some of you are keen to get the next stage under way. Just before I outline it, tell me how the first stage has worked out for you so far.” Then look around expectantly.

Engaging an audience early is always a good thing. The genuinely warm greeting does so indirectly. The early interaction does so directly. And the best thing about such engagement? You’ll feel relaxed and confident and you continue into your presentation.


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