We've all seen it happen. I'm talking about the speaker who opens like the start of a drag race. When the green light goes on, he or she jams the accelerator right to the floor. We get the equivalent of screeching tires and clouds of rubber smoke as the speaker overpowers us with a torrent of words, acronyms, org charts, definitions, ideas, and complex visuals. At two minutes into the talk, we're already a minute behind.
To the speaker, all this may seem "energetic and dynamic." To the audience, it's a huge turnoff. Audience members who are out of the loop are in the early stages of "I don't care."
How do you really engage your audience? One sure-fire way is to devote the first couple of minutes to creating a connection and bringing your audience into the comfort zone.
Don't use your script or notes. Instead, just talk with your audience as if you're having a conversation with one other person. Tell them what you're going to talk about. In a few simple sentences, bring out your big idea. Tell them why it's important to you -- and to them.
If you're using visuals, turn off the projector and turn up the house lights. You want the audience to see you. And you want to see them.
Many speakers see this approach as way too low-key and casual. It's not. You're setting up the most important element in your speech or presentation -- connecting with your audience.
In almost every speaking event, there is a subtle but powerful dynamic at work. Audiences are not automatically open and accepting. There's a level of guardedness. Audiences hold the speaker at arms length -- until the personal connection is made.
For more than a decade, I wrote full-time for a high-profile CEO in high-tech. The thing is, she rarely used the words on the first page of the scripts I wrote. Instead, she would just talk to the audience in a casual, conversational way. She would be "in the moment," playing off the audience to spontaneously build that personal connection. And it worked like gangbusters.
Once you've established your connection with the audience, you can begin to use your script or notes, take down the house lights, turn on the projector, and start really getting into your content.
With your audience snug in the comfort zone, they're ready to listen, understand, and believe your ideas.