Public Speaking Tips: How to Engage Your Audience
What is the best way to engage an audience? Check out the below article.
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Executive speech coach and award-winning speaker Patricia Fripp was recently asked, “What is the best sway to engage an audience?” This is the advice she gave the attendee at her San Francisco Speaking school:
“The best way to engage an audience is to be prepared, personable, polished, practical, and profound.”
Know who you are speaking to: why are they there; what part of the agenda; what is the purpose of the meeting and expected outcomes of your contribution?
Is there a theme for the meeting?
What is the state of their industry?
What is the organization proud of?
What are their challenges?
What is a typical day in the life of the audience members?
Ahead of time, can you interview a few people who will be in the audience and find ‘sound bite’ quotes?
Before the event be responsive, easy to deal with, and meet all organizer’s deadlines.
During the event don’t demand, change the equipment requested, or act like a celebrity.
Before you speak meet, shake hands, chat with attendees, and be visible and involved for at least part of the meeting. You will be perceived as more interesting if you are interested. You engage your audience when it is obvious you have attempted to include THEM into the message.
Giving a presentation is not about being perfect as much as personable. However, you are expected to know your content and have practiced your presentation. Even if you use an outline, do not be so tied to your notes you have to read it. This kills all eye connection with the audience if you are looking down too much.
Be sure your information is interesting and has a logical application to the audience. Is it delivered at the right level of abstraction for the audience? No brilliant sounding ideas that are not specific enough to be useful?
Simple universal concepts are not necessarily simplistic. Your observations and recommendations based on your experience and wisdom can make them profound.”
The Most Important Part of the Speech!
The most important part of the speech is also one of the most neglected parts of the speech. You can improve your storytelling, establish interesting conflicts, make fascinating points, sell them with the push, pull, and passion approach, and use all of the nuts & bolts suggested in future newsletters, and yet you will fail to be effective if you do not put into practice the most important part of the speech. Let’s look at it in detail.
When I give a 45-minute workshop on the art of public speaking, I usually open by thanking my introducer and making a comment such as, “That was a great introduction. It was fabulous. It was…just how I wrote it!” This gets a laugh. Then I go into a self-deprecating humorous story about a terrible public speaking experience I had in which I failed miserably. Then I have the audience do a very quick 15-second activity while standing. Then they sit. After I have spoken for about 4 minutes, I ask the audience, “Have I made any points yet?” They think about it for a second and answer, “No!” “Why not?” I ask. Someone will eventually say, “You were building rapport!” “Absolutely!”
I then explain that it is extremely difficult to give people advice without first knowing them. Therefore, it is critical to use what I call get-to-know-you-time. This is the time you take at the very beginning of your speech to simply get to know the audience and let them get to know you. I am sure that you would not go up to a stranger on the street tomorrow, stop him in his tracks and say, “You know…you should really start setting some goals in your life!” That person would call the cops on you! Well, audiences are similar when you do not spend any get-to-know-you time with them. If you dive immediately into your points, the audience will ask themselves, “Who does he think he is?” Or, “She does not even know me at all so why is she bombarding me with suggestions?
The way to avoid this is by developing some material for the get-to-know-you time and using it for approximately the first 5-10% of your speech. In a 45-minute speech I may use the first 3-5 minutes for the rapport building. What should you do during this time? That is completely up to you, but the one thing you should not do is make any significant points. It’s not the time for that yet. This time is simply used for one thing – to connect! I call it the most important part of the speech because…
If you do not connect up front, your audience will not be around (mentally or sometimes physically) for the remainder of your speech no matter how powerful it may be.
Here are some suggestions for things you can do during these first few make-or-break-your-speech moments:
Give thanks to the people who brought you in to speak and mention them by name.
Talk about something interesting that happened on the way to the engagement (perhaps while traveling).
Share something funny that one of the participants said to you and call them by name to make a greater connection.
Share a humorous (self-deprecating) story without attaching a point to it. This works great because your humility will attract the audience to you.
Speak about the city or even the specific location of the event.
Do a very quick activity (15-30 seconds) that involves them in some kind of physical movement such as crossing their arms and then re-crossing them with the opposite arm on top. These types of activities work because they make a kinesthetic connection with the audience.
If the group’s energy is already sky-high, go ahead and do a call and response, or at least ask them how they are doing and possibly put your hand to your ear so that they will respond verbally.
Mention something positive about the speakers who spoke before you, if there were any speakers
Do whatever builds a connection without making any points.
Many successful speakers are using acting techniques to upgrade their platform skills. After all, the speaker’s job is the same as the actor’s-get the audience involved. Legendary Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, attributes much of her success as a speaker to her acting training. Patricia recognizes that, “Actors have to do the same role for months and years. How do they stay fresh? That’s what we have to learn.”
Do you want to win an Academy Award every time you speak? To deliver each story as though you just thought of it, even though you’ve told it 500 times? Fripp remembers, “When I first went to (coach) Ron Arden, I was getting bored with my own material. After his session it was like giving my talk for the first time.”
During twelve years as a professional actor, it was my privilege to study with some splendid coaches in New York and Los Angeles: Lee Strasberg, Mary Tarcai, Warren Robertson, David Craig, José Quintero. This acting training has been invaluable in my career as a professional speaker. Here are ten practical secrets from the craft of acting that can help you win an Academy Award on the platform.
Secret Number One: Improvise
Improvisation means making it up as you go along. It means letting go in order to try something new and exciting. Actors use improv to free up their creativity and to discover their comfort level with the script.
You can improvise by trying out different ways of structuring your speech. By improvising with my negotiation keynote, I came up with the signature story of how I accidentally knocked my grandfather’s false teeth down the toilet. It has nothing to do with negotiation, but it succeeds in getting the point across with warmth and humor.
Tony Alessandra, PhD, CSP, CPAE, improvised a story to explain the difference between the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. “One day,” he recalls, “something suddenly popped into my mind about my mother treating people in a restaurant as if she’s in her own kitchen, and I built the story up from there.” Improvisation took him beyond the obvious.
Try practicing one of your scripted stories with improvised words-you will discover the language and mode of delivery that feels most comfortable. You can clean up your timing by delivering your speech at twice the normal speed or by delivering it in gibberish.
Reminding audiences of Sid Caesar, speaker/actor Alan Ovson cleverly improvises with foreign and regional accents in order to highlight his serious business message. “While it is heavily rehearsed,” Ovson says, “99% of my actual speech is improvised based on the mood and reactions of the audience.”
The idea is to keep the instrument (you) free and open. Improvisation gives you the space to be creative and spontaneous.
Secret Number Two: Personalize your stories
The key to story telling is not to memorize the words, but to memorize the experience. Actors do this using a technique called personalization. It means tapping into an experience from your life and applying the emotional impact of that experience to an acting scene or to a story. Personalization is the actor’s secret for being real.
For example, when Anthony Hopkins is playing the role of serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the film, Silence of the Lambs, he recreates the emotional impact from an experience in his life where he was so mad that he wanted to kill someone. What we see on the screen is Hopkins as a psychopathic killer. In reality, Hopkins the actor is playing out the emotional reality of his substituted experience.
As a speaker, personalizing means bringing yourself into the speech. “For telling stories,” Patricia Fripp advises, “if you can’t see it, the audience won’t.” Get the audience involved by reliving the experience with them. The payoff is that each time you recreate the experience, it will be fresh.
Even when you are describing something that happened to someone else, make the material your own. “All of my stories are personal stories,” says Tony Alessandra. “If I hear a story that I like, I will rework it for me. I don’t tell it the way everyone else tells it.”
Secret Number Three: Have a strong drive
An actor has a drive (or objective) in each scene, and a drive which serves as a through-line for the play. The drive is what motivates the character. Hamlet’s drive is to kill his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet finds many obstacles in the way, but without his drive the play would collapse.
As a speaker, your drive is whatever you are advocating to the audience, your point-of-view. My drive is to convince the audience that win-win negotiating is more productive than win-lose. Joe Calloway, CSP, CPAE, says, “My drive is to have the audience saying, ‘Wow. I never thought of it that way.’ To help them create a new perspective.” NSA member Barry Wishner’s drive is, “Not just to present ideas, but how to execute those ideas.”
Without a drive, you are merely a walking encyclopedia. Take a stand and stand out!
Secret Number Four: Be theatrical
Actors always try to be real on stage. But stage reality is actually a heightened form of what we normally experience as reality. Reality without theatricality is boring! Even the most subtle film performance has a dash of theatricality thrown in.
Being theatrical as a speaker means, “You need to be yourself but slightly ‘larger than life,'” says Patricia Fripp. She adds, “Style is being yourself…but on purpose.” At the humorous end of the spectrum is Larry Winget, CSP, who tells his audiences about shopping with his wife and finding a display of small plungers. He says, “It ends up with me putting a plunger on my head and pulling some other bald guy on stage and putting another plunger on his head and then having a ring toss.”
NSA member Marianna Nunes sums it up by saying, “Great performers can read out of the phone book and keep the audience entertained!” When you are communicating with a large audience, a lot of electricity is flying around. Use that electricity. Put on the Ritz!
Secret Number Five: Start at the top of the scene
First impressions are crucial. Actors know that they have to grab the audience immediately. They do this by starting at the top of the scene-their energy level must be up there right from the beginning. For speakers, “Your energy is what motivates and energizes them,” says Marianna Nunes. “You must be warmed up when you begin.”
Patricia Fripp says, “Come out punching.” This doesn’t mean that you should open your speech by screaming or by jumping up and down. “Match the audience’s energy and come out a little higher,” Marianna Nunes suggests. “If they’re low key, don’t come out too wild or they’ll be turned off.”
Alan Ovson opens up with a story. “I involve the audience as much as possible right away,” he says, “so they get the scene, the smells, the warmth, and the feeling of what’s going on in the story.”
I have seen speakers take half an hour to warm up. You will lose the audience if you wait too long to rev up your motor.
Secret Number Six: Work moment to moment
Great actors are great reactors. They strive to work moment to moment. This means they keep their senses open and alert, not anticipating what the other actor is going to do. Jack Nicholson’s performance is more exciting because his response to the other actor’s behavior is spontaneous and unplanned.
Don’t be like a speaker I know who pauses at certain points in his presentation for audience laughter-whether he gets it or not! Be there fully. Allow your senses to be aware of everything that is going on as you speak, and adjust your presentation accordingly.
“The ‘magic’ happens spontaneously,” observes Joe Calloway, “in reaction to the audience. Often my best material comes from what is happening in that meeting. My presentation is not like a train that is locked onto the tracks-it’s much more like surfing, moving this way and that, sometimes falling off!!”
Tony Alessandra agrees. “I have an outline in my head, but I never know what I’m going to say because I like to involve the audience,” he explains. “When you ask questions of the audience, you may get answers that you weren’t expecting, and you have to play off of it. Some of my best lines come from the audience.”
Secret Number Seven: Go for variation
Anything that goes on too long in the same way is boring, even sex. Actors break a scene down into beats and establish variation for each beat. Speakers can strive for variation in emphasis, movement, volume, energy level, material, etc.
You can build variation into the organization of your speech, e.g., story…transition…story…major point…story…and so on. Variation can occur in the volume and tone of your voice. Pausing is a form of variation. And don’t forget to build variation into your body movement.
Patricia Fripp quotes her coach, Ron Arden, as saying, “The enemy of the speaker is sameness.” When she outlines her talk, Fripp asks, “How many points of wisdom, stories, laughs, transitions, questions…?”
Bear in mind that your audience has a short attention span. Variation is an effective technique for keeping them with you.
Secret Number Eight: Take risks
Do you remember Marlon Brando’s “Granny” in the film, Missouri Breaks? The willingness to take risks is what makes great actors stand out. The same is true for speakers. “To be truly in the moment with the audience,” Joe Calloway insists, “you have to be willing to fall off the surfboard once in a while.”
Barry Wishner’s risk-taking is bringing audience members up on stage. “I never know who they will turn out to be or what they will say,” he admits, “but that’s exciting.”
Recently, I beat up a rubber chicken during a keynote. It was a risk. Some people loved it and some hated it, but no one forgot it. People still come up to me and ask, “Ed, how’s your rubber chicken?”
So, how’s your rubber chicken? Have you taken any risks lately? As NSA member Sally Walton says, “After all, we’re not doing the Presidential Debates. What have you got to lose?”
Secret Number Nine: Be fully committed to your choices
When Brando put on a dress and became “Granny” in Missouri Breaks, there was no holding back. Actors strive to make interesting choices and then commit to them fully.
If you decide to be theatrical or to take a risk on the platform, don’t hold back. When I beat up my rubber chicken, I strangled it, slammed its poor little head into the podium, threw it to the ground and jumped up and down on top of it, screamed and growled and snorted.
For Marjorie Brody, CSP, being fully committed means, “being passionate about my message and how it will impact the audience’s careers.” Be fully committed to your message and your choices. Secret Number Ten: Your relaxation is in your concentration
If the actor’s mind is allowed to roam free, it will focus on nervousness. Actors relax by concentrating on their preparation, the script, and the other actors. Speakers can relax by concentrating on their drive, the client, the audience, customization details, room mechanics, etc.
Marjorie Brody relaxes by meeting and greeting audience members, giving out handouts, and chatting with them before her presentation. Alan Ovson concentrates on his points of wisdom. “As I get more information about the audience, I realize that what’s important to me may not be important to them,” he admits. “So I concentrate on re-prioritizing my points.” To Be or Not to Be?
Don’t expect to win your Academy Award without effort. Actors who are hailed for their instant stardom remind their fans that it took years of hard work for their “overnight success.”
“Acting techniques are appealing and appear easy to use,” cautions speaker coach Dawne Bernhardt, “but if they don’t blend in with your natural style, you run the risk of losing authenticity and appearing artificial.” How can you avoid that? “Practice is essential,” advises Bernhardt, “along with feedback to be sure your technique isn’t showing.”
When used correctly, these ten acting secrets can help you to be yourself on the platform. They can help your delivery become spontaneous and alive. They can help you command your audience.
With these skills you can excel in your speech.
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