Let's face it: your presentations matter to your career. Use this simple technique to be more persuasive with audiences and to have greater influence!
Want to get better at connecting with audiences and getting your message across? This trick will also give your ideas more impact. And you'll become much more persuasive.
What's the secret to accomplishing all these desirable public speaking goals?
I can tell you in a word: look.
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The Curious Case of the Speaker Who Looked Away
There's an odd phenomenon at play among public speakers everywhere: they waste their best moments to reach and influence listeners. Keep reading to see if you're guilty of the crime of throwing away your opportunities.
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Here's how it works. We're usually super-focused on getting all of our information across. Why wouldn't we be? It's the good stuff—the slides, chart, case studies, sales numbers, and all the data themselves. Isn't it our job to convey that to our audiences?
Well, no. Our job is to influence the audience positively. That may mean a number of outcomes: persuasion, inspiration, firing up the workforce, sharing our vision, convincing leadership of our abilities, summing up a project, etc., etc. The really core idea of public speaking is that you have something listeners need, and your job is always to give that to them.
Sure, you use information to help accomplish that purpose. But your content is never as important as your ability to connect with the audience in terms of your true purpose in speaking. If you think that purpose consists of droning out information, you'll proceed in exactly the wrong way: by focusing on your content above everything else.
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That results in the mistake of reading your content (notes, slides, manuscript, presenter's notes, whatever form it takes), at precisely the moment you should be looking at the audience instead.
This Little Piggy's Gaze Was Brick-Solid
It doesn't matter whether you're speaking in-person or virtually. Your concern with getting your content right might be obscuring your real job, of connecting with listeners in the right way.
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Here's what I mean by 'the right way': you should be looking at the people you're talking to when you share the key things they need to know. "Well, of course!" you may be thinking. But do you do that? The truth is, we get nervous that won't get our beautifully composed content out exactly as we've written it, so we tend to look down at the moment we're getting to the heart of things.
The reason this matters when speaking English is an important one: in our language, the most important word or phrase usually comes at the end of the thought, not at the beginning or middle. (I usually use Hamlet's famous phrase, "To be or not to be, that is the QUESTION" to illustrate this.) Human nature means that, as we're reading something aloud, we tend to look down as we are completing a thought, to sneak a look at what we are going to day next.
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Do you see the danger? If you're saying this, for instance:
"We don't want to just make a hit with this product . . . we want to revolutionize the industry!"
If you're looking down at this last part because you want to see what's coming next, well, there goes the entire impact of what you're trying to say! But, ah! If you're looking straight at everyone as you make that revelation, they will feel it in their bones. And really, it takes only a second or two to grab the important point you want to make, before you look up and reveal it to listeners. So, we come to . . .
The Golden Rule for Punching Listeners in the Gut
(Metaphorically speaking, of course!)
If you're not looking at your audience, nothing should be coming out of your mouth.
Remember that, and you'll be accomplishing your real task as a speaker, which is to make the words turn back into blood through your performance. Really, it's the reason a speech or presentation should be exciting, even life-affirming, for everyone involved.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.