It’s difficult to get people’s attention. It’s even harder to keep people’s attention.
Making a speech is part communication, part theater. That’s right, you’re an actor/actress on a stage. You finally get your chance to make your presentation, your talk, your big speech. Now that you have their attention, you must now spend your precious time entertaining, as well as educating.
One of the most encouraging pieces of advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to public speaking: Your audience wants you to succeed. That’s great news. They want you to do well. They want to connect with you and your message. And the ones who deliver, the ones who are rewarded with the attention of their audience, are those who add a bit of drama to their presentation.
I’m telling you, a little drama can save your whole speech.
Listen to this…people are making a decision within the first 30 seconds about whether they can trust you, whether they’ll listen to you. That tells me I need to find some way to connect with my listeners…and fast.
But…what if I blow it in the first 30 seconds to 3 minutes? What if my opening bombs and people start checking out.
Is it over? Should I simply stop and refund everyone’s money?
I believe (and have seen most every one of these things in action) that there are some techniques a person can use to bring the crowd back around and they lean toward the dramatic. If you find yourself at a point in your presentation that is met with the blank, empty stares of a crowd lost in space…you might want to give one of these a try.
1. TELL A STORY
People are narrative by nature. We’re all drawn into a well-told story. Even if the story has nothing to do with what you’re talking about, it can get your crowd interested again.
2. MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH
When people begin to get bored or find your presentation irrelevant they begin to put up walls. When people laugh, walls come down. A person can be humorous without being a comedian. Sometimes, if you’re willing to laugh at yourself in front of others, they’ll begin to respect you as a real and genuine person. If they can relate to you, they’ll begin to connect with you.
3. ENGAGE / INTERACT WITH ONE OR TWO PEOPLE IN THE CROWD
If you’re losing the whole crowd, then focus in on one or two people. Find out their names. Ask them where they’re from. People will be curious about the interaction and want to watch…and listen.
4. SHOCK THEM
There’s a fine line with this idea. In fact, I think you can only use it once during a presentation. Shock people more than once and they’ll start to get offended. When people disconnect, they do so because they don’t feel like you have anything they want or need to hear. Perhaps a better word for this tactic is surprise. Think about what you could do that is completely unexpected.
5. MOVE CLOSER
If you are on a stage, get off of it and move amongst the people. If you are at the front of a room, move to the side. I like to call this “conversation distance.” Get as close as you would if you were carrying on a conversation with a few of the people closest to you.
6. END EARLY
I will often ask people how long I have to speak when I go somewhere to present. I always strive to end a bit before the amount of time they give me. If you are struggling in your presentation, it may be the best move to simply end things early rather than stretch it out to your allotted time. I’ve never heard anyone complain because a sermon or a speech was too short.
7. START OVER
If you have blown your beginning, your opening lines fell flat, and you don’t seem to be connecting, then simply start over. Tell your audience that you’d like to try the whole thing again. In fact, leave and come out again. You may not want to repeat your opening word for word, but people will be more intrigued by the theatrics of you attempting to start the whole thing over again.
8. ACKNOWLEDGE IT
Nobody is perfect. At some point, you may want to simply acknowledge that you’re not connecting. It won’t be new information for the audience, but it may get them back in your corner because of your blatant humility.
This is one of my favorite ones. Sometimes, I may feel like the crowd isn’t quite with me. So I’ll just stop and smile. People often tune out because they become accustomed to the cadence of my voice. Stopping breaks the rhythm. Silence makes people curious.
10. ACT IT OUT
Instead of simply telling people your next bullet point, act it out. Create an imaginary scenario where you play the role of one of the characters that demonstrate what you’re talking about. This role playing. If you want to take it up a notch, invite someone up from the audience to help you out. And as you play your part, overemphasize your part.
Whatever you do and whatever happens, if you can’t connect with your audience and your presentation falls flat you need to know why. If you think it’s a “them” problem, you won’t learn anything from it. Ask for feedback. Videotape yourself. Get someone to be honest with you.
If you speak enough times, you will be able to do some self-critiquing. Part of every presentation I give involves reflection and honing. I will make notes about what worked and what didn’t. There will always be places for improvement.
If I bomb a presentation, I want to learn as much as I can before the next one. Because if I can’t connect, I can’t communicate.
ONE MORE THING…
If you use one of these techniques to save a failing presentation, you typically won’t get a second chance during that presentation if you lose the audience again. The best preparation is to have a great presentation and to be a great presenter. But it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
What do you think?