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Entertain your audience

How to shine on your next public appearance


Not everyone has that disarming British humour. But a little bit of self-deprecation and a joke can put an audience at ease, putting you on your way to captivating your audience. When you lose track, for example, “Hang on, where was I?” is something people can relate to – because who has not lost track? Ian Cummings, Vice President EMEA at CWT Meetings & Events explains how to get your audience onside.

Captivating your audience is critical. “With all the noise through social media, we see firms increasingly investing in face-to-face events to properly engage with an audience,” explains Ian Cummings. That takes presentations to a whole new level. “You can no longer wing it. Content must be bang on cue: interesting, entertaining and connecting.”

But how do you captivate an audience? “Content is key,” says Cummings. “So, too, is preparation. But you also need the tools to engage your audience. If you don’t win them early on, then you run the risk of Generation Xers and Millennials switching off and pulling out their phones.” So, how do you become a speaker who can captivate your audience? Cummings provides his top tips:

Stand out from the crowd
It’s embarrassing how often people use the same information or jokes. How many times have you heard the analogy of Blockbuster deciding not to buy Netflix in a digital transformation talk? Audiences are desperate to be engaged, so don’t use information they can readily access. Dig below the surface for interesting facts, analogies and stories – much like journalists do.

Know your audience
Make sure you properly research your audience’s demographics and culture so you can address issues close to their hearts and knowledge. A lot of people forget this and use the same speech everywhere. Yet what appeals to a baby boomer may not appeal to a Millennial. Remain authentic. When boomers try to talk like Millennials it mostly falls flat. Acknowledge the differences: “In my generation I would have said this, but with you guys I am going to say that …” You can also address cultural differences with humour. I once listened to a German presenter who was hilarious about the typical stereotypes we have about Germans – chief among them being that Germans don’t have [a sense of] humour.

Don’t offend
These days you risk offending so many people in so many ways. Be sure to run your talk past people who can pick out the problematic parts. However, most people can take light-hearted humour about themselves or their nationality.

Know your topic
The better you know your material, the more engaging your performance. It also allows you to confidently deviate from the script and address issues as they arise. Research well and practice your talk – on your own but also in front of your harshest critics.

Entertain your audience
People love watching something visual. A super-cool video clip midway or towards the end will keep them interested. Storytelling is big – for good reason. Personal anecdotes let you connect to the audience on a very human level. And they give depth and context to your topic. They’re certainly more entertaining than PowerPoint slides.

Walk across the whole length of the stage to engage as many people as possible. We now organise a lot of events with a central walkout stage, which allows speakers even more audience interaction. If you notice the audience is disengaged or looking at their phones, get them active – for example, run a poll on the event app. Give them a yes/no question to answer or options to vote on. Everyone will do this because they can’t wait to get back to their phones. When the results come up on the screen behind you, draw them in: “That’s truly interesting, let’s discuss why you think that …”

Tackle your nervousness
Be well prepared. And talk slowly. You tend to speed up when you’re nervous, have tics or are emotional. Take a deep breath, pause between sentences, and be very deliberate in your delivery. Control nervous habits, such as putting your hands in your pockets or over-use of “er …” or “right?” by practising your talk. Some people use a lectern to hide nervousness. You can rest your hands on it, lean on it for comfort and also hide notes on it. But walking the stage will engage the audience more.

Careful with notes
Even the best speakers use “comfort” notes to help them stick to their talk track – often on a monitor in front of them. But never read them. Reading quickly becomes obvious.

The five big “no-no’s”

  • Nervous body language or nervous speech (“er … er”)
  • Too many PowerPoint slides
  • Reading from notes
  • Clichéd information or jokes
  • Giving the same talk to very different audiences

This article was originally written by Vicki Sussens for the 2019 Winter edition of Connect Magazine.

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