By tricks we don’t mean misinforming or manipulating your audience. But instead we mean what are some things you should do to both grab and hold your audience’s attention?
There are three top tricks that all inspiring presenters use. The first is being real. People are interested in who you are and why this is important to you. One of our client’s from an environmental agency was presenting at a conference recently. He wanted to show that the environment had always been important to him; he just hadn’t climbed on the bandwagon recently. He started by sharing this story: ‘When I was 5 my mother started reading The Lorax by Dr Seuss to me and it became my favourite book. Some of you might know the story of Ted who lives in a town where nothing is quite as it appears; everything is plastic, including the plants. Hopelessly smitten by a beautiful young girl who only has one wish and who dreams of one day seeing a real tree, Ted boldly leaves the city determined to find the flora and grant her wish. On his journey he meets the Lorax , a grumpy but charming character who ‘speaks for the trees’. In his adventure Ted finds the last tree was chopped down, but in a symbol of hope at the end Ted is given a seed, to go and plant the first tree again. And that was when the seed for my own passion about the environment was planted’. The audience immediately connected with his authenticity and passion. If you are able to share the ‘real you’ upfront, that will certainly grab your audience’s attention.
But it has to be much more than being real, as a presenter you have to be relevant. What you are saying has to be relevant and meaningful in your audience’s world. The role of the presenter has shifted from just providing information, to creating relevance and meaning. A presenter on the topic of nano technology to a largely non-technical audience opened by asking, “Who would like to never iron again?” Every hand went up in the audience. He responded by then saying ‘I am here to show you how nano technology will make that possible’. By making his topic immediately relevant to everyone in the room, he had us all hooked. As Dr Stephen Covey says in his best seller ‘The 7 Habits of highly effective people’ – seek to understand before being understood. Show your audience you understand them first, by being relevant to their needs and they will be open to connecting and understanding you. Of course this needs to be done in an authentic and sincere way.
And finally the third trick up every inspiring presenter’s sleeve is risk taking. Predictability is the death sentence of every presentation; it’s the boredom that can kill off your audience. Mark Stephenson of the future optimist fame says he often walks out of presentations when leaders tell him ‘we can be innovative if we stay within the rules”. The walk out is a risk and shocking, but he knows in a matter of seconds people will follow him out and invite him back in. He’s making a point there that innovation only happens when you are ready to break the rules. Instead of saying this as a trite statement he stages a walk out to add gravitas to the situation and make it an unforgettable experience for people in the room. Risky – but memorable and makes a point.
So our Halloween challenge for all aspiring inspiring presenters is to keep it real, relevant and take a risk, try something left field or unusual. You will then earn the ultimate treat – your audience’s attention and respect. Of course you can use these 3 tricks all year round, not just on Halloween.
In Douglas Adams cult classic ‘The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’, an incredibly powerful computer Deep Thought was built to provide the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. After the great computer program had run for seven and a half million years, the answer was announced. The Ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything .. Is…42.
Now we know you are not going to take that long to answer questions you are asked after you present and hopefully your answers will be more illuminating than 42. So how do you answer questions? In a follow up post to ‘Any questions’ here are our top tips.
The first is to be prepared for the questions. You should be able to predict about 90% of your questions. Run your presentation past a peer or trusted advisor and ask them what questions people are likely to have. If someone else has presented similar material before, pick their brains over coffee and ask what do clients always want to know about this. If you are going to be making the same presentation over a few times then start putting together a FAQ document. Preparation really helps nail the Q&A section of your presentation.
When you are asked a question the first step is to acknowledge the person asking it.
Acknowledging a question
This is sometimes called ‘giving status’. So you could say ‘That is an interesting question’, or ‘A very insightful observation’, or ‘Thanks for asking that I’m sure many people are thinking the same thing’. Sometimes I ask for the questioner’s name and might simply say ‘Thanks Tom’. But please this has to be genuine and make sure you do not parrot the same line after each question is asked! That would defeat the purpose.
Repeat & Ascertain
Please check if the rest of the audience heard the question and if they haven’t repeat it for them. Sometimes if the question was quite detailed or rambling ascertain by asking if you got the question right but narrow this down to 1 or 2 focus words, that the questioner has used. For example by saying ‘ Would it be right to say you are asking about how to implement this in your business?’. The focus word being implement which will then guide your answer.
Answer using PEP
Always acknowledge, repeat and ascertain if necessary and then move on to answering the question and do so using a simple 3 step formula. Make a point, provide an example, or evidence and repeat the point you are making but use different words. Think of this as a PEP answer: Point, Example, Point. This helps keep your answers punchy, short and to the point. The Q&A session is when energy drains away from the room, especially when the presenter drones on with their answers or gets on their favourite hobby horse. PEP helps discipline presenters and keeps the energy levels buoyant in the room.
Have a wide lens when answering questions. Quite often presenters simply focus their answer and eye contact on the person raising the question. This does two things, it makes the person uncomfortable to be in the spotlight and it disengages the rest of the audience. As a practical solution, when you acknowledge, and ascertain you would make eye contact with the person who asked. When you are repeating and using PEP to answer, you would broaden your focus and look at the the rest of your audience and when you end return your focus, and make eye contact again with the person who asked to make sure they are happy with your answer. If this sounds hard think narrow focus (eye contact with the person who posed the question), wide focus (Make eye contact with the rest of the audience) and finish on narrow focus (eye contact with person who asked the question).
Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42 as the answer to everything and many theories from binary representations to Tibetan monks were proposed. He finally answered. ‘The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story’.
When it comes to presenting to a group, there’s one major step that most presenters miss.
Many leaders will spend an hour presenting a new strategy, explaining how exciting and challenging it’s going to be, when their audience is either tired because they’ve heard it all before or are concerned about how this is going to affect them. The one thing they are not is excited. The presenter has failed to address the elephant in the room and missed the opportunity to connect to what the audience is really thinking or feeling.
Recently, I went to my daughter’s school for an information evening. Midway through the night, a “parenting expert” came on stage and every parent in the room rolled their eyes. Sensing everyone’s displeasure, the expert said, “You’re probably thinking ‘not another parenting expert, will I ever get home?’ The guilty audience burst out laughing. She then took it a step further saying, “As a parent myself, I’ve often felt this too. We all know that parenting is the toughest job on earth. It was once said: ‘You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.’ So I’m here to share some tips with you that we, as parents, can all use on days when patience is in short supply. As parents of teenagers you will have lots of these days.”
Not only did she address the elephant, she invited it into the room with us and used it to her advantage to connect with her audience.
It takes courage to address the elephant in the room and as Ellen Wittlinger author & novelist said ‘ When there’s an elephant in the room you can’t just pretend it’s not there and just discuss the ants’.
Sadly this is a step most presenters miss.
Presentations are all about people. So it makes sense that every inspiring presentation starts not with the content or the presenter in mind, but with the people it was intended for – your audience.
Carolyn Tate, a marketing guru and friend, once asked a financial planner who his audience was and he replied “Anybody with a pulse really”. The last thing we ever want to hear you say is your presentation is for everybody – with a pulse. That is the only way to ensure your presentation will fail.
There are three questions you must be able to answer before you begin any presentation:
- Who is your audience?
- What motivates them?
- What do they want from my presentation?
Research your audience. It doesn’t matter if your audience is made up of your internal team that you know well or a bunch of total strangers, you must still be able to identify what their common problems and frustrations are. This is when you really start to live in your audience’s skin. You start to see the world like they do.
A senior leader at a large financial organisation was presenting across the board to different levels of employees on a major change initiative, touting it as better way to do business, gain a competitive edge and improve shareholder value. She admitted that most people would be there because it was compulsory.
Thinking about it more, she realised that the new change initiative would make everyone’s work and life so much easier. She also discovered she’d been pitching the project at too high a level so it sounded lofty in what it could achieve. While the project excited her, it was absolutely meaningless for her audience. With this new insight, she rewrote her presentation with the angle “I’m here to make your life and work easier”. Consequently, she enjoyed a much more positive response.
Why is walking in your audience’s shoes, living in their skin so important? People need to feel you understand them first. As Stephen Covey says in his best seller ‘The 7 Habits of highly effective people’, seek to understand before being understood. Show your audience you understand them first and they will be open to connecting and understanding you.
Of course, this needs to be done in an authentic, genuine and sincere way. Nothing stinks more than the feeling that someone’s faking it. Your audience will sense this immediately be immediately turned on. But on the other hand nothing is a bigger turn on for an audience than feeling ‘This presenter really gets me’.
Jack, one of our clients was preparing to present at a Road Show. We asked Jack what his audience would be thinking and he answered honestly with this. “Well when I was on the other side of the fence and had to attend Road Shows, I would often think ‘Not another bloody road show’, so I have no doubt that this is exactly what most people will be thinking”.
Jack used this knowledge and started his presentation with “So I know you are all probably thinking, not another bloody Road Show”. Everyone immediately laughed, they had been outed, but the audience also felt understood as Jack acknowledged what they were thinking. Jack was immediately on the audience’s side and they thought this speaker isn’t too bad, let’s listen to what follows.
Once we attended a 7:30 breakfast presentation where the CEO of Carmen’s Muesli, Carolyn Creswell was presenting. She started by saying, “When the alarm went off this morning I thought this breakfast seminar better be good. And then I thought Shit I better be good!”. The audience laughed and connected with her straight away.
Depending on what you are able to find out about your audience always try and tap into what your audience is thinking and use that as part of your presentation.
In fact we often recommend you begin with that, like Jack and Carolyn Creswell. If your first line is about the audience then like the line from the film Jerry Maguire “You have them at hello“.
So, what is the first line you say when you present? The first few moments of your presentation are really important, this is when you can get your audience to connect with you, or not.
Connecting with your audience as fast as you can is vital. You need to figure out how you can ‘have them at hello’. You only other choice as a presenter is to lose them at hello.