Got a talk coming up? In the era of TED Talks, the ability to deliver presentations with a punch is something that many of us are after.
Having just returned from the awesome WELCOA Summit, I am feeling especially inspired. I was lucky enough to be part of the speaker lineup, alongside thought leaders like John Perkins, Ryan Picarella, Vic Strecher, Andrew Sykes, MJ Shaar, Brian Passon, Rosie Ward, Paul Scialla, Barbara Zabawa, Mitch Martens and many more.
All of these speakers have one thing in common: the ability to engage their audience. Here are 10 strategies to help you do the same:
1. Take advantage of the time before the talk begins. Before any talk, even a keynote, I either stand in the entryway or I walk around introducing myself to audience members. This gives me a chance to connect with people personally, and it also gives me the chance to get names. Mentioning participant names during your session is a surefire way to endear your audience to you!
2. Give something unexpected. I often hand out “Motion Tips” as attendees are walking in. These are small cards (think “Angel Cards”) with ideas on how to get more movement, written in a playful style. They’re unexpected and always generate smiles.
3. Think in 3’s. I usually organize my talks around three big points, often three big questions. Keep in mind that your audience will only be able to only retain a small amount of information, especially if it’s a keynote. If they walk away with three memorable items, you’ve succeeded.
4. Get your groove on. Hula hoop, sing, dance, or just move. I usually begin with a movement “brain teaser” to literally get people up on their feet (and laughing) right from the outset. At the WELCOA Summit, I jumped through hula hoops on stage. Meanwhile, my good friend and colleague MJ Shaar wowed us with her Celine Dion impersonation, topped off with dancing in her keynote "All You Need Is Love."
5. Incorporate activities throughout. Throughout any presentation, even a keynote, I use lots of interactive activities. Here are some tips to make sure these activities run smoothly: (a) be very explicit – and repetitive – in giving directions (imagine you’re giving directions to second graders, I’m not kidding), (b) make sure that the activity itself is very specific (avoid overly general "get to know your neighbor" prompts), (c) use props (some of my favorites include notecards, sharpies, even image flip books), and (d) be directive in bringing the activity to a close (I often instruct people with: “Say thank you to your partner, and resume your seat).
6. Emphasize stories over stats. Share a stat, only 5 out of 100 are likely to remember it. Tell a story, and 63 out of 100 will likely remember it. If you want to be an unforgettable speaker, build up your “story bank,” and thread these collected stories into your talks. Take Brian Passon, a.k.a. "Constructive Disrupter," who inspired attendees to go out of their comfort zone by sharing his experience attending a West Coast dance event the night before (held at a nearby VFW, no less). Andrew Sykes, President of Habits at Work, shared his personal struggle with giving up smoking (even when he was in the business of health promotion!) to illustrate how difficult it is to make a lifestyle change, even when we should “know better.”
7. Use images and embedded media. If you want to move people, use text sparingly - and lots of imagery. A resource for great images (including the one I used for this article) is unsplash.com. If you want to take it up a notch, embed media and music. These are a great way to “wake” people up. In his talk about the power of purpose, researcher entrepreneur Vic Strecher managed to work in “Screaming Kid” – one of my all-time favorite Youtube clips.
8. Think about your outfit. Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, delivers his keynotes in blue sneakers (get it?). Andrew Horn, CEO of Tribute, delivered his keynote at WELCOA Summit sporting gold high tops. MJ wore a necklace that sparkled. And, as the host of the event, Ryan Picarella, President of WELCOA, set the tone for warm friendship with his trademark look of jeans and button down shirt. Classy, but casual.
9. Connect the dots. New York Times bestselling author John Perkins, our closing keynote, shared tidbits from the previous speakers – showing the connection between his message and theirs. Super impressive. I often think about a thread that I can introduce at the beginning and then bring up again at the end. This helps to give the talk an organized sense of having “bookends.”
10. Create an experience. Remember the “Ice Bucket Challenge?” ALS fundraisers cleverly figured out that an experience – as in dousing oneself with an ice bucket – was a much more effective way to move people to support their cause. Experiences move people; information does not. So, whether you’re getting ready for a keynote, a breakout session, a company talk or a lunch n’ learn, move people by creating an unforgettable experience. By combining all of the strategies above, I can guarantee that you will do just that!
What are tips to better engage audience members? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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