Engage Your Audience … compel them to listen!

Presentation SkillsThe word, compel is not too strong. It’s not hyperbole. You really can make the audience pay close attention and they won’t know why they’re doing it – they’ll just think you’re an interesting speaker. It’s subtle. It’s almost laughably simple. The outstanding speakers all do it, many instinctively – without knowing what is really attracting their audience’s attention.

It works for everything from small meetings to conferences.

1. What the audience must see
As you speak, show your audience you’re interested in their reaction to your words. Your audience must see your eyebrows rise and wrinkles appear on your forehead – as happens normally when you ask someone a question. That expression says, How is working for you? And to best convey that elemental visual inquiry, you seek out eye contact, moving with a slight sense of urgency.

Be careful that only your expression carries that inquiry and not your tone. Your tone and voice should still have the authority of a statement. When you speak with authority, your tone typically drops at the end of the phrase or sentence.

2. Why does it work?
That visual inquiry signal registers into the subconscious minds of the audience and satisfies a deep human need. That need is that people want to hear what others have to say if they express interest in them. Yes, we do admire performing speakers with the attributes of confidence, conviction and personal authority, but we are also compelled by our subconscious to be drawn to speakers who show interest in us. In other words, the speaker engages with the individual although they are only a part of the audience.

3. Check it out first
If at first this feels awkward, begin to practice in front of a mirror. Ask your image a simple question, such as, “Did you enjoy the last magazine article?” You want your expression to show that you are interested in the answer. Perhaps your eyebrows will rise or wrinkles appear in your forehead. Now, adopt the same inquiring expression when you’re making a firm statement, such as, “We tried several systems, but in the end the most reliable was the Focused Discussion Method.” Make sure your tone drops at the full stop, which shows authority and certainty. If your tone rises, that signals uncertainty. It’s called rising terminal inflection – a common speaking malady.

After a few practice sessions, try it out on a friend or a few colleagues. Don’t mention specifics like eyebrows and wrinkles. Just tell them you’re trying improve your presentation skills. Choose a topic and give them a comparison of two 15 to 20 second versions. In version one, speak as well as you can, but keep your eyebrows at normal level. In version two raise your eyebrows as you look around, seeking people out with that touch of visual inquiry, How is working for you?

Ask them which was better and you should be pleasantly surprised by the feedback. Also, ask them if they noticed what you did differently in the second version. By now, you should have convinced your own brain that it’s worth the risk of adopting this new behavior. So, at the next opportunity to speak to an actual audience, enjoy your rewards.

4. Bonus
Deliberately showing interest in your audience also helps overcome stage fright – even if you’re just pretending, just acting interested. Your body can influence your mind. Ultimately, of course, you’ll want this natural projection of showing interest in your audience.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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