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Whether you’re making a sales presentation, speaking at your professional association, or accepting your party’s nomination, creating a genuine connection with the people in the room goes a long way toward assuring success.
And a lot of speakers find that challenging. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve seen some of them blathering on Capitol Hill and on your TV screen.
Here are some pointers from my 39 Keys to Command the Room and Connect with Your Audience.
Make full-frontal eye contact with the individuals in the room.
That means turning your whole face, and in fact your whole body to face each person or each section of a large audience. Looking at someone sideways makes you seem less open or trustworthy.
Most speakers scan a room constantly or look toward the back of the room over the tops of people’s heads. Or they swing their head from side to side as they read from the teleprompter screens to their left and right. Or they look down, reading from notes on the lectern.
Instead, make sure you connect with each individual, eyes-to-eyes, and heart-to-heart.
When you’re speaking virtually, you do that by looking through the camera rather than at the faces on your screen. That way each of those people will feel your connection with them.
Talk to the people, not to your slides.
How often have you sat in a room watching the back of a speaker’s head as he read bullet points off the screen? Boring, right? The guy might as well have emailed the PowerPoint and saved you the time and effort it took to be there.
You’re better off with images on your slides instead of bullet points. When you do need to show words, make them few. And large.
What if you need to glance at the screen to make sure you’re on track with the slides?
That’s the time to pause. Turn your head so you can see your slide. Then turn back to your audience and start talking again. Rule of thumb: your lips should not be moving unless your eyes are on the individuals sitting in front of you.
Remember to smile once in a while.
Even if you’re speaking about something quite serious, you’ll want to smile at the people listening to you. Because it makes them want to keep listening!
Maybe you’ve seen a speaker who’s so wrapped up in her material that she sounds fierce or even angry about it? That can make an audience uncomfortable. And it certainly doesn’t draw them to a speaker; in fact it has the opposite effect.
Your presence at the front of the room will be much warmer if you lighten it up and smile.
Bonus tip for my fellow baby boomers (and it wouldn’t hurt you Gen-Xers, either).
Smile even more!
When I see myself on video, I am uncomfortably aware that as I get older, I can look crabby or mean even when I’m not feeling cranky at all. Something about those vertical lines beside my mouth!
You might be noticing the same thing. The antidote seems to be intentionally turning up the corners of my mouth. Frequently.
No lectern, no table—no barrier between you and the audience.
I spoke at a convention a while back where they had a stage set up with a lectern and a long table for panel presentations. I watched another speaker stand behind the lectern and push the buttons for her bullet-point-heavy slides.
When it was my turn, I ditched the stage altogether. Planted myself in the space at the front of the room—on the same level as my audience—and moved among the people seated at round tables.
It changed the energy in the room so much that people actually commented about it. The room –and the people in it– shifted from feeling lifeless to much more vibrant.
Now that wouldn’t work as well in a much bigger room with a much bigger audience. Still, the lesson for you is: Putting a physical block between you and them makes it even harder to connect with people.
You’re already competing with their phone, their thoughts about what happened earlier, their concerns about what’s coming up … and maybe their need for a cup of coffee, or lunch, or the nearest restroom. You get the picture. Don’t make it harder for yourself by hiding out.
The main thing your audience wants from you is – you. More than your information, more than your clever content, more than your brilliant analysis. They want you.
And It may be a challenge to show up in front of an audience or your customers or your colleagues being who you really are. No mask, no artifice, no fakery.
That doesn’t come easily. Because guess what, if people see and hear you as you really are, some of them won’t like you.
Not to be harsh, mind you. Some others will love you to pieces. But isn’t that really what keeps us from being willing to be authentic? We’re afraid people will think less of us when our real selves are front and center.
So, we can fall into the habit of hiding.
People who hear me speak tell me often they appreciate how “real” and “natural” I am; sometimes, I admit, I’m not totally sure that’s a compliment.
But most of the time, I’m pretty certain that being willing to be who I really am in front of an audience is a gift and one of the keys to success as a speaker.
I recommend it to my clients. The main thing your listeners want from you really is you.
And the main thing I want from you is … your comment here.
Great tips always Catherine. Your newsletters offer so much applicable and sound information that is immediately usable! Thank you for all your tips and reminders.
Good to hear that you find these useful, Barb. Sometimes even experienced speakers benefit from a reminder or two.