One of the most disheartening sights for a presenter walking out on stage is surely a room full of disinterested people who really want to be somewhere else. If you’re the last in a long line of speakers that day and the ones before you haven’t been able to enthuse the crowd, you could be in for trouble.
So how can you turn it around and get the crowd on your side, excited, and asking for more?
Make them work!
No, I’m not saying give them an exam, or get them to do a Krypton Factor style puzzle, but if you can get them to exercise their mind in some way, there’s a better chance of what you’re saying being remembered.
A simple start would be to ask a question. You can start with something really basic like “raise your hands if you are terrified of public speaking”. This works on a number of levels because raising a hand is a simple thing to do. In my example, if this were a talk on how to get the most out of public speaking then there’s a fair chance a good number of the audience would have anxieties. Raising a hand should be easy for even the most nervous.
It also invites a group or ‘herd’ mentality. People will begin raising their hands, and you often see a ripple as people pluck up courage when others do the same.
The ice is essentially broken. It’s time to work with this and do more to get them involved and thinking about what’s being said on stage. Here are a few pointers.
Tell a story
Most of your audience will have a day job. This will be a job that they’re currently not doing because they’re at your presentation, but seeing as they often spend a lot of time in an office, it’s a good place to begin a story.
If you can relate what you’re presenting to what happens (or what probably happens) during a typical working day, you have a better chance of them remembering what you’ve said. This is because the mind works well with ‘triggers’.
For example, imagine you’re on an especially great holiday watching the sun go down on the deck of a cruise liner drinking a piña colada, your absolutely favourite pineapple-based beverage. As you drink, you are listening to the tune “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot.
I’m willing to bet that if you heard that song when you got back home, you would remember that cruise, that sunset and that drink.
An office is a little less exotic, but the same principles are at play. If you can get people to relate their real world to the issues you’re talking about, it can have an incredibly positive effect on retention.
Ask them to make notes
Many people will already be making notes, but I find this to be a problem. If they’re writing things down, they’re not listening. Multi-tasking is impossible. But, if you stop and ask them to make a note about something, then you are giving them time to do it and they’re not missing out on what you’re saying.
For example, if you’re giving a presentation on the best type of photocopier for an office, you might want them to base a decision on the number of people, desks and workstations in that office. So, stop and ask your audience to make a note of those figures, then explain what the best solution is for a range of answers. Give them time to write down that answer.
You’ve essentially told them which one of your products to buy, but psychologically, they made the decision.
Ask more questions
Yes, you’ve probably got a fantastic voice, but even so, it’s nice to get some other voices around the room. So ask questions that will elicit longer answers. If you need to, go back to your original ‘hands up’ and then pick a few people and ask them for more information.
Try to relate these questions to their environment in the same way you told a story, get them to invest emotion and feeling into the answers.
Be more you
People relate to people they like, and they’re more inclined to trust, appreciate and remember what you’ve said if they like you. By following the advice above, you can get your point across in a way that people will remember, and act upon.