Audience — Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. With presentations, I believe that 80% of success is meeting your audience’s expectations. Address their concerns in your presentation and they’ll give you high marks.
Most presenters start off their presentations with an agenda, a list of their company’s accomplishments, or other items that are of little interest to the audience. In other words, it’s all about the presenter.
Attention levels are highest at the beginning of a presentation. Start your presentation with a focus on you and you’ve wasted your best chance to connect with your audience! Here are four common errors that start most presentations — a joke, an agenda, an apology, and a list of the presenter’s accomplishments.
Audiences hope you will meet their expectations and respond to their needs. Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.” An audience changes everything. They define your words. They frame your images. They set your worth. The audience is the final judge of your success. Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories. The audience IS the reason for your appearance. Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”
So, how do you attain that of “80% of success” plateau with your presentation? Meet the expectations of your audience. Follow the next three steps and you’ll be on your way to a presentation that is audience centered.
1) Know your audience
Find out who they are on as many levels as you possibly can. Talk to the person who is bringing you in to speak and do the following:
- Ask about the top concerns of the group.
- Find out if the group is facing unique challenges.
- See if anything has recently changed in the lives of your audience.
- Consider if your audience is at the beginning, middle or end of their life experience, work, school, parenthood, etc.
- Learn why they are coming to hear you speak.
The more information you have about them the more you can address their concerns. Use the information to customize your presentation and make it more audience specific.
2) Meet your audience
Every presenter wants to address a friendly audience. By meeting audience members before you present you’ll be creating a personal connection. They’ll see you not as “the speaker” but as someone they hope will succeed. Conversely, meeting people before you take the stage means that when you present you’ll see new friends in the audience. This can go a long way to putting you at ease and making your presentation more conversational.
- Meet your audience before taking the stage. Show up early to meet and mingle with them before your formal presentation.
- Connect with people on an individual basis. Ask for their personal feelings about your topic. Their responses might provide you with some last minute insight into that particular group.
- Stay late. Take questions from the audience. Find out what part of your message meant the most to them. Their insight is very valuable.
3) Engage your audience
Meeting your audience will go a long way to getting them interested in you as a person. However, to maintain that interest you must have ways of engaging them throughout your presentation.
There are many effective ways to begin a presentation. “I want to thank the blah, blah, blah for having me here today.” is not one of them.
- Try a strong statement such as, “You can change your world,” that centers on the audience and gets them thinking.
- Try a shocking and relevant statistic –“3 out of 4 of you in this room will not have enough money to retire.”
- Tell an insightful personal story that sets the framework of your presentation.
Not all openings need to be dramatic, but they should center on your message and the interests of your audience.
Another level of audience engagement concerns your body language – feet, eyes, hands and voice.
- Feet: Engage your audience by having an open stance when presenting. Be steady and stable. Don’t pace, but use the space to walk to different points while holding the gaze of one person as you walk towards them. This requires that you leave the podium.
- Eyes: Look directly at people. In a small room, attempt to look at everyone during your presentation. In a large room, select a few people in different parts of the room and have conversations with them.
- Hands: Use your hands in a natural way, but with slightly larger and broader movements. When you move your hands, move them with intent and purpose.
- Voice: Engage your audience with your voice by using vocal variety. Pausing and lowering your tone will literally draw an audience closer to you.
Finally, engage your audience with passion. Be “on” when you present. An audience will forgive many things if you give them your story, straight from the heart, with passion. Passion is not the icing on the cake. It is the cake. This passion does not need to be shown a la Tony Robbins style, but there should be some spark, some magic, to your presence. Passion makes your message come alive and connects you directly with the audience.
Summary: When presenting, your goal is to reach a point of connection with your audience, instead of remaining on the base plateau of communication.
Recommended reading: John C. Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”
Let me know your thoughts. What methods have you used to connect with your audiences?
Audience is the first part of Charles’ “Three magic keys to successful presentations.” In upcoming posts, Charles will be discussing the other two “magic keys,’ preparation & practice.
Charles Greene III Presentation Magician
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