Have you ever been giving a speech, and you see “screen saver eyes” staring back at you? If so, you’ve lost connection with your audience. The following tips will help you connect with any audience, any time.
Remove all physical barriers between you and your audience
Get out from behind the lectern and move. The lectern is the portable reading desk with a little light on it. It’s designed for you to place your notes on it and stand behind it. It is sometimes called a podium. However, it is a barrier. It makes it easy for you to hide and prevents the majority of your body language from being seen. Step away from the lectern, and walk and talk like you do naturally. Your entire body is an instrument of communication. Use it. As a matter of fact, your audience will be disappointed if you stand behind the lectern because it shows that you are a lecturer and not a speaker. They don’t want another boring lecture, like back in high school. They want you to entertain them while you teach. So take a deep breath and reveal yourself. Get out from behind the lectern and move.
Know your audience
Don’t talk at them with a canned speech that you prepared for another audience. Customize your content to their issues. Do your homework and find out who they are. Prepare a pre-program questionnaire and ask three or four people to fill it out. Keep it simple enough for them to want to complete it, but include probing questions such as, “What is the most recent change affecting your organization?” The more points of view you get, the better. Decide what stories and content elements you want to use based on your research. Connect the point of your stories to their current problem or challenge. Use the names of a few people in the audience. To do this, you’ll need to interview a few people on the phone or ask around. Be kind. Know who you can have fun with in the audience and who to steer clear of.
Make it personal
Speak about what you know from personal experience. Bridge the gap between your research and your opinions. If you don’t bring your point of view to the speech, why bother? Tell personal stories that show people that you’ve been there. Your credibility lies in your life experience, not in what you’ve read from books and articles. Talk about challenges that you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome. Go deep. Reveal your struggles and hardships and what you’ve learned along the way. Then, reveal the lessons in your stories as points. Remember, they didn’t hire a reporter or a book reviewer, they hired a content expert. That’s you. Be the expert. Take a stand.
Create a 40/60 balance of facts and interpretation
Report on the facts, and then interpret them. If you report too many facts, you run the risk of having a very dense program that loses people. There is nothing wrong with facts and data. A good percentage of your audience wants to know where you get your information and if you can back it up with statistics. Too many facts and statistics, without your interpretation of the data, however, is boring. Weave back and forth between facts and interpretation. Use metaphors as a way to interpret information. What is your information or data like? Is it like a Chihuahua trying to pull a milk wagon, when a draft horse is what’s needed?
When you make eye contact with someone, hold it for a few sentences. Really talk to that person and connect. See if you can get them to nod their head or smile. Then move on and connect with someone else. Don’t make the mistake of focusing above people’s heads or at a spot on the back wall. It’s phony and will get in your way. Looking into people’s eyes will ground you and help you to slow down
Give your audience a moment to feel and interpret what you’re saying. Most speakers seem to think that they have to talk nonstop, not realizing that they’re not giving their audience time to breathe. Feel free to walk from one side of the room to the other in silence at the end of a section or after making a point. Silence acts as punctuation in a speech. During the silence your audience is working. They’re processing what you just said and deciding whether it applies to their life. If it does, they’re probably deciding what they need to do next. Your speaking prevents them from having their moment of reflection. It’s okay to slow down. As a matter of fact, your audience will appreciate it.
Use PowerPoint as your assistant – not your replacement
They came to see and hear you, not read off of a bunch of slides in the dark. Did you know that dimming the lights tells your audience members’ brains that it’s nap time. Darkness signals the brain that it’s time to sleep, so it starts to produce Melatonin – that’s right – the same Melatonin that you buy to help you sleep at night. So keep the lights in your meeting room up and have the fewest slides you can get away with. Keep the focus on you.