Seriously. There's a simple head movement, combined with eye contact, that will impress your audience. And it really is simple: Look around to find individuals.
Every now and then (maybe every second or third individual) give that person a very small nod as you give them direct eye contact for between one and two seconds. The nod has to be very small, almost imperceptible. The eye contact is not much more than a single heartbeat. Then move to someone else.
Why does that impress the audience?
Because we all have a subconscious wish that whoever talks to us is actually interested in us. In just a few seconds, even though you haven't reached everyone yet, the entire audience gets the feeling that you are more interested in them than in your own survival. Now they're more likely to listen to your message. I told you it was simple.
That's not your challenge. Your challenge is to deal with your inner voice of caution which will whisper This feels and looks weird. So here's a suggestion. First try it out on at least two friends. Family maybe? Sit them down in front of you, tell them exactly what you need the feedback on, then - talking on a serious topic - look from one to the other with the nod and the direct eye contact. Ask them how it looks.
Now for a real audience. If you can arrange it, get a friend to sit in and give you subtle signals. Thumbs up - looks good. Palm up - do it more. Palm down - do it less. The beauty of that is that your voice of caution settles down instantly on the thumbs up.
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Of course you do. But don't mistake me, it has nothing to do with them smiling. It has everything to do with them experiencing this feeling: I like you, I respect you. When an audience warms to you like that, your believability and your ability to persuade take a significant jump in the right direction.
How to make that happen? Well it's hardly a surprise - if you want them to feel that way about you, you have to feel that way about them.They can't help but respond, even when they consciously disagree with your topic.
But of course self-consciousness gets in the way. It masks your natural liking and respect for others. Too many naturally warm people make presentations as if they came directly from the undertaker. The audience might feel sorry for you, but they can't warm to you. So the real challenge is how to allow your normal liking and respect for others show through in spite of self-consciousness.
Here's a solution that works well for many trainees.
Practise showing warmth.
Seriously. Get in front of the bathroom mirror and imagine bumping into a friend you haven't seen for a while. A friend you like and respect. Look at the subtle changes happening in your face muscles - especially around your eyes. Don't allow a big smile. Stay with the subtle changes. Now here's the important part. Next time you meet a real person you like and respect, be aware of those physical changes.
In front of a real audience, make those physical changes happen until it becomes natural.
And do yourself and your audience a very big favour. Make it happen right from the first moment - when you're walking up to the front, when you're in position, and when you're looking around at everyone and greeting them.
By the time you've said, 'Morning everyone', the audience should already be warming to you.
Even when they disagree with your opinion or decision.