Do you match the energy of a professional comedian? Or have the calm gravitas of a world leader? Ultimately, all we need to do is to connect with our audience so that they want to listen to us.
Here are seven simple steps to win over your audience, every time:
1. It’s not about you
When pitching or presenting, always make it about your audience. What do they want? What’s in it for them? Put yourself in their shoes – make them feel special. People who say ‘LOOK AT ME’ are boring because they make it all about them.
2. Stay present
An actor playing Hamlet saying the famous lines ‘To be or not to be?’ has to imagine that it’s the first time he has ever said those words. He can’t say, ‘To be or not to be? That is the question. In fact, it’s the same question I asked myself at the matinée this afternoon.’
Your audience don’t want to feel you’ve given this message a hundred times before. If you stay present, so will your audience.
3. Wait two seconds before you speak
If you start speaking too quickly it looks like you just want to get it over with. So wait two seconds before you speak because:
- It says that you are comfortable being there;
- It gives you time to checkout the audience;
- It pulls their focus on to you; and
- It gives you a natural authority.
4. Use your own voice
If we can learn to use our ‘own’ voice, rather than using a ‘public speaking’ voice, we will feel that we are authentically being ourselves and so will our audience. Often this is as simple as not speaking too loudly ‘at’ the audience. Try instead to sound relaxed.
5. Don’t take yourself too seriously
When we listen to someone who takes themselves too seriously, we can’t wait for them to slip on the proverbial banana skin. As Billy Connolly said, ‘Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.’
6. To learn or not to learn?
Reading the entire speech from a script can work if you have no preparation time but written sentences tend to be longer and more complicated than spoken ones, so you can look ‘rehearsed’ and insincere. Also you’ll find it harder to hold eye contact with the audience.
Learning the whole speech can make you sound spontaneous and authentic but it’s only an option if you have enough time to learn it properly.
Bullet points on cards can work well and they tend not to shake as much as paper does. I’ve seen speakers have their notes on an iPad, either saved as a continuous document or as a series of pdf pages. The first requires continuous scrolling and the second repetitive swiping. Both can be distracting to an audience.
7. What to wear
Choose clothes that make you feel good – you don’t want to feel restricted or tight. But eccentric clothing or odd socks will probably get noticed. I advise dressing slightly better than your audience to show them respect.
Robin Kermode is one of Europe’s leading communication coaches and founder of Zone2, a professional training and coaching consultancy.