POWER PLAY #4: F— the Audience


F—– the Audience

At the beginning of any presentation, attendees are usually restless. They have no idea whether they’re going to be bored or get anything out of it. They’re distracted, too, and often will be fiddling with their phones or whispering to someone next to them. Seriously, unless they’ve paid to be there or you’re famous, it’s likely they don’t care about you and your presentation, and they just want to get it over with.

Well, you know what? F—– them!
In this case, F stands for focus, and that’s right, your job is to focus the audience on you and your message. You can’t expect them to arrive already focused, because they have too many other
things on their minds. So plan for this as you develop your content. Know that before you dive into the heart of your message, you need to get their attention. How do you know when your audience is focused? What I always ask myself is: are they responding to me? Not just one or two people, but the whole group. Responses can include answering a question, raising their hands, closing
their laptops and looking at me, leaning forward in their seats to listen, or any other action that gets them more involved in the presentation. Getting your audience to be responsive at the beginning is critical to the success of your presentation. The audience’s response or lack thereof can set the tone for the entire presentation. Lack of audience response is incredibly painful when you’re presenting. So commit right now to making sure you get your audience responding from the get-go.

Ways to Draw In Your Audience

Here are some of the best strategies for getting your audience to start responding to you.

Start conversations before the presentation.

Show up early for every presentation and strike up friendly conversations with people in your audience beforehand. Instead of waiting in the shadows, walk right up to people, smile, shake their hands, and talk to them. Let them get to know you and get to know them. This gets them responding to you before you even start, and the energy carries over into the beginning of your presentation. Everyone pays more attention to friends than strangers. 

Be introduced. Supply your host with a catchy biography of 150 words at most. Include details that will be of particular interest to your audience, along with your credentials. Ask that the leader of the group introduce you if possible by using the three Ws: what you are going to be talking about, why it’s important to the group, and who will be talking (a little bit about you). A good introduction helps focus the audience and creates a sense of importance about the presentation. 

Ask a question. At the beginning of your presentation, ask, “How many of you have…?” “What would you do if…?” “Is it true that…?” People’s brains are hardwired to respond when someone asks a question—we just can’t help thinking of an answer of some kind. The key, though, is that your question elicits a response: a raise of the hand, a nod, or a verbal response. 

Have them introduce themselves. This works best in smaller groups. Give them a format to follow that insures their introductions are brief. An exampleis: “Give your name, how long you’ve been with XYZ company, and what you’re most interested in getting out of this presentation today.” By having your audience introduce themselves, they’re automatically engaged in your presentation. 

Get them moving. If it’s appropriate, have your audience stand up, stretch, shake hands with other attendees, or even move to another part of the room. Any movement you get them to take increases their engagement. 

Break the ice. I’ll often use an icebreaker to begin a presentation. It might be a fun game, a demonstration, or even an optical illusion
PowerPoint slide. The key to an icebreaker is that it has to be interesting and unexpected. 

Get them laughing. If you can crack them up, do it! Even a bad joke that elicits groans is okay, as long as you’re laughing with them. 

Be silent. Walk to where you’ll be speaking and look at your audience. For a few seconds make friendly eye contact, and then take a relaxing breath before you begin. 

Be sincere. Begin with a warm greeting and a friendly smile. Don’t say, “It’s a privilege to be 
here” unless you mean it. Be honest from the start, and you’ll grab their attention and begin to build trust. 

You may be wondering, This all sounds good, but what do these techniques have to do with creating an engaging story? It’s simple: the best storytellers tailor their stories according to the moment-by-moment feedback they receive from their audience. Interacting with your audience both before and during your presentation will also help you share your message in a much more personal and engaging way—increasing the likelihood of achieving your intended outcome.