Want listeners to instantly grasp the importance of what you're saying? Here's the foolproof way to know how to interest an audience.
Can you put your finger on what will engage, interest, and even excite an audience?
Let's face it: isn't that supposed to be the reason you're speaking? To get there, of course, you'd better be focused on your listeners' needs rather than your own performance. If you read my Six Rules of Effective Public Speaking, you know that Rule #1 is making the audience the center of your universe. Rule #2 is about establishing a relationship with them; and Rule #3 is about being crystal clear on your purpose in speaking to them.
So how do you make all of this clear to listeners? For audiences to be moved and then activated, they must understand why your topic matters to their lives. But before you can share that with them, you have to establish your true purpose in your own mind. Since a speech's purpose always has to do with benefitting listeners, knowing it provides the clue you need to speak about your topic in ways the audience will relate to. Which means letting them know their connection to the subject.
Actually doing that is what I want to talk about today.
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Who Are You Talking To, Anyway?
Recently, I was working along these lines with a client. This human resources leader had a compelling story to tell—in truth, it was about a life and death situation. It was meant to move and impart a vital lesson to listeners. Yet for four-fifths of the story, the presentation wasn't particularly interesting, or even engaging.
How could that be? It seemed to me it was because my client wasn't clear on the purpose of her talk. She recognized the power of the story. She just wasn't telling it in a way that made it clear from the beginning what it had to do with the lives of the people listening to her.
She began with a recital, in detail of her work day leading up to the shocking incident that occurred. It was not only dry and mundane, but clearly centered on her life, to the seeming exclusion of the people listening. "What does this have to do with me?" I could hear future audience members asking.
At that point, I asked why she would be giving this speech: What would it accomplish in the minds and hearts of listeners, and what did she want it to achieve? Most important: How did she want people to think, feel, and act once they had heard this story? When she told me, I said, "Now let's give the audience a clue that that is the reason you're sharing this with them."
And that's the way it works: Give your listeners a roadmap—not only where you and they are about to go together, but why you're speaking to them about this topic. "I'd like to share an experience I had recently, because I think it's something you can all relate to." Or, "I want to talk about something that I think matters to all of you here in the company." Then explain briefly why that is so. You'll talk about it in detail in a moment; what you're saying now is, "Here's why you should pay attention to what I'm going to talk about today."
Are You Reaching Them Where They Live?
Your topic may be universally important or interesting. Or it may be specific to this audience in terms of how it can benefit them. But in either case, it won't sound that way if you give listeners a long lead-in to what you actually want to say, filled with data and PowerPoint slides.
The truth is, all of that input is the evidence to prove your point. Your statement of what you want to share with the audience—and why it's going to make a difference to their lives—is the actual substance of your talk. They need to know that, if they're going to sit up, pay attention, and take to heart what you're telling them.
And you needn't only do this at the start of a talk. It's often a necessary step in an explanation to your team of a new product or procedure, when conducting a training, or in any situation when you're discussing a complex matter. It's too easy in these scenarios to start relating more to the issue than to the people you are educating.
In these situations, step out of your narrative from time to time to remind your listeners of why this talk is taking place. It sounds something like this: "So again, you can show this simple formula to clients to explain our investment strategy." That instantly answers the question that was almost ready to break the surface in your salesperson's mind: "Now why should I care about all of this?"
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