Last week, at the first Speakersbase SpeakersforSpeakers event, Nathalie was to speak to other public speakers and event organizers. The topic: how to engage your audience. As she fell ill, I got the chance to share what I have learned on the topic.

So, you got the call and they invited you to speak. You have a topic to talk on, and they are dying to see your presentation. Oh, and by the way, they would love it if you can make it entertaining and interactive. ‘But you know how to do that, given your speakers fee’, was the last thing they said, before hanging up the phone.

At the risk of preaching to the choir, let me go over my playbook for engaging my audience. It’s just 7 simple steps:

1. Check

…(who is) your audience. Make sure to get a list of the participants. Feed them to Google, check their LinkedIn profiles and maybe contact them. It will give you more information on current knowledge, background and who you will be meeting.

2. Design

…your presentation for plenty interaction and maximum impact. For this you use everything you have learned from the organizer and the audience. With or without slides, your presentation should be:

  • Triggering your individual audience member by feeding into his/her reasons why they would want to hear more from you.
  • Seducing your individual audience member to ask themselves questions during your presentations. As that is the only way to make them think.
  • Easy to follow and remember for your individual audience member. For this storytelling (and all other means that address all senses: auditory, visual and kinesthetic) and repetition are very helpful.

3. Add

…extra’s for bonus and back up purposes. An engaging presentation… does not exist (before the actual presentation takes place): it is what happens with that particular audience at that particular moment. This can’t happen if your presentation is linear (after 1 has to come 2, has to come 3, and so on).

But if you want flexibility by design, you need to make sure to add material, stories, visual and the whole shebang.

4. Connect

…with your audience. No matter how large or small the crowd. Theodore Roosevelt was right: Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

To connect with your audience:

  • Be early at the location and mingle. Knowing people, their history and name will be useful during your presentation. Oh, and if you have a sincere interest in people, it will be fun for all too!
  • When others hold presentations before it’s your turn, do not use that time to mentally prepare your presentation. Listen carefully to those presentations. Find what you should skip, what you can reuse and how to make your presentation fit the whole program.
  • Arrange that someone else is introducing you. Provide them with information and a fall back text for that. That way your introduction will be favorable. Likely so it will induce an opening applause, allowing you to walk to the podium (or spot) and take the stand.
  • Take a moment to take the stand properly (feet at hip width, slight bend at the knees and weight evenly distributed). If you’re nervous, be aware of that, breathe properly (calm and deep belly breathing), smile and blush (if you must).
  • Non verbally connect with your audience (e.g. by looking 3 audience members left, center and right of your audience).
  • At the risk of stating the obvious: Do not open your talk with distancing language. No apologizing for being non-optimally prepared. No factual replay of how come you are doing the talk.
  • Start your talk with something that connects. Many ways of doing so. Amongst which are asking a question, diving right into a story and showing/introducing an object.

5. Move

…yourself and them.

Static presentations are hardly ever engaging (ever felt engaged by someone statically glued to the speaker’s desk). Move around a bit and move your body to create some visually appealing dynamics.

To engage your audience you need to move them both physically and mentally. As it’s easier to move them physically I suggest you start with doing that. Ask them to stand up, change places, and so on and so on. The earlier you do that the easier it will be. Also it will pave the way for more interaction.

To move your audience mentally move you need to have an emotionally appealing and triggering presentation. Even though you have designed for that (right?), you should monitor and adjust for engagement during your presentation.

6. Make

…an impact. For your presentation to make an impact you need to make your audience think. Use questions for that. Not just the ones your pre-designed, but also questions that turn out to be relevant on the spot.

7. Give

…something to keep and share. Your audience will probably not be able to remember everything. So, a handout will be appreciated. And by giving out something that is worth sharing you can increase the reach of your presentation (for example use SlideShare). Also consider making photo and video of the event. In any case make sharing super easy and make it quick (waiting will make your giveaways way less valuable).

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