Do you know how to exercise total control as a speaker? Here's how to lead your audience to your important message.
Recently, a client asked how she could help her team control a central aspect of the work they did together. She meant in terms of a training presentation she would be delivering to them. My clients teach me many things, and this was an example, because I appreciated the way she had identified a central aspect of effective presentations.
Do you exercise it in your speeches and presentations? And what is perhaps the more vital question: do you understand its importance?
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To master public speaking, you must control the elements—the feel of this dance between speaker and audience. Here are three key ways to do so.
Engage Your Audience to Make Them Receptive
Why do we leave audiences out the dance completely, left at the edge of the dance floor and feeling bored, not led, and unloved. Let's take these three states of mind in turn, including what you can do—what you must do—to change that reality.
Speeches and presentations are never about delivering information, however important your data. It's the implications of the data that matter, i.e., the influence you're trying to achieve with listeners. So you must first get them to be interested and receptive.
This is a critical first step to establishing control in your talk. Audiences expect a mundane opening in which the topic is blandly stated and an agenda (with bullet points!) given. Your job is to surprise and intrigue them. You do so by thinking hard about what will resonate with this particular audience, and then open in a way that a) piques their interest, and b) touches their self-interest. That is, you engage their attention AND hint how this is all going to benefit them. It's also an easy way to demonstrate that you're firmly in control.
Here are a dozen powerful ways to do this. They're in my essential free resource, "How to Start a Speech: 12 Foolproof Ways to Grab Your Audience!"
How to Lead an Audience in a Speech
Most speakers abrogate their responsibility to lead when they speak. They are content to turn on the fire hose of information and deluge their audience. They are fire hydrant operators, not speakers. (And they certainly aren't heroic firefighters or rescuers.) Since absolutely no one is getting a fire lit under them, it's a lost cause from the start.
Instead, think of yourself as an adventure guide. Let's say you've followed my first step above and have enticed your audience into listening attentively. You immediately relate this exciting opening to your overall topic. Once you've done that, you tell them about the exciting journey you're about to take together. You do so by previewing your speech.
That means letting them know what your main points are—the specific areas you're going to cover in this otherwise overly broad topic. Each of those main points is a way station in your talk, i.e., a stopping point on the trip. When you reach each one, your listeners know exactly where they are on the journey. It's as engaging as the grabber was in your opening. As important, you can see how you are controlling the shape of the speech and your audience's experience of it. You haven't left them off the dance floor . . . you've invited them to dance.
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Satisfy Audiences by Making it All About Them
At this point, you're controlling the shape of your speech and your audience's personal response to your narrative. Now it's time to enrich the experience for them.
Actually, if you're attuned to your listeners you should have been doing this from your opening. In every way large and small, you need to make what you're saying is literally all about them. Anything you say, that is, must have a dual purpose: a) delivering essential information, and b) helping listeners grasp why it benefits them in some important way.
I call it "living in the world of your audience." It involves asking yourself a critical question: "How can I say this in a way that taps into my audience's self-interest?" There's nothing wrong with audiences being in a "What's-in-it-for-me" frame of mind. After all, it's called giving a speech—it should be your gift to them.
It comes down in the end to a larger question at the heart of effective public speaking performance: "Am I speaking in a way that lets listeners know this presentation is about them, not me (or my company)?" Answering that affirmatively helps you control your audience's emotional response, their thinking from now on, and the actions they will take. That's what ethical public speaking has always been all about.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching worldwide. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.