Engaging Your Audience

I found Anna in an empty connecting corridor between the two administrative buildings of the university. When she saw me, she threw herself on my shoulder and burst into tears.

“I swear I did my best to prepare,” she sobbed. “I worked on that presentation all week after the previous time, when they looked quite satisfied, and… this time the room is empty! Can you believe this? No one’s come to the training! No single person! They were all there a week ago, and today… oh, what did I do wrong?” Through sobbing, she nodded to thank me for a tissue and mumbled into it, “I’m not good at it, I’ll never do trainings again.”

That afternoon, for the first time in her life, Anna faced the fact that knowing a topic in and out does not guarantee success to a speaker. She also learned that, when you work with audiences of mature, ambitious, self-confident professionals, you’ve got to be just like them, plus you’ve got to produce a great first impression.

Just like a first date aftertaste can influence the whole relationship, the success of your coaching (training, lecturing, or any other kind of teaching) largely depends on how well you manage to impress your in the very first minutes of your presentation.

Here is an interesting thing: when you work with an audience of highly skilled professionals, they don’t expect to learn a lot from your training. They aren’t looking to dive into the depths of smart thinking; they are rather willing to watch your performance (your speaking manner, style, appearance, etc.) and to have the fun of enjoying (or criticizing) your occasional ingenious remarks. In other words, they come looking for entertainment. They want eccentricity. They are hoping to fall in love with your presentation, no matter what you are going to say there, and if you manage to meet their expectations, you are going to face success. Guaranteed.

The smart, highly skilled professionals can learn something new from books, but if they want to transfer their knowledge to others, they need to watch your performance and learn from a real life performance example.

Therefore, the number one task of your presentation is not to deliver information (the participants can find a lot of valuable information on the Internet and in books), but to create a certain emotional environment, and this environment is the reason why they have come to listen to you.

Please them. Please your listeners in the very first minutes of the meeting. Tell them an interesting fact, a joke, an anecdote, a quote, or a story. It should be related to your presentation, of course, but do not reveal that connection right away; the smartest thing would be to mention that joke (quote/statement/etc.) in the end of your presentation again and explain its connection with the topic of the meeting.

As an option, you can find some impressive statistics; compare some numbers, talk about facts, provide a couple of real life examples. And again, mention it in the end when you are summing up your presentation.

Another great way to begin your presentation would be to tell a story that starts with the words: “On my way here this morning, I…”

As an option, you could demonstrate them a practical skill (how to tie shoe laces with one hand or how to make a boiled egg slip into a bottle without touching it — anything that could impress your listeners)

As you speak, it makes sense to repeat your key message a few times during the training. Not to mention the fact that there must be a key message in every public performance.

Sharing a personal experience is a good method to attract attention of the audience. A first-hand story always sounds more attractive than any piece of information which has absolutely no relation to your life. A few other techniques that might help are —

  • to point our something about the audience or the current setting;
  • to show a compelling visual image and ask them to discuss it;
  • to ask a provocative question; or simply
  • to state an amusing, or remarkable fact.

If you want your audience to participate in what you are sharing, do not expect them to do this from the very fist minute. Warm them up by asking a few questions which do not have to be answered by the audience. Little by little, they will become more active and responsive.

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