Last week, Jesse and Marty discussed that when we have an opportunity to influence or lead people, we can’t assume that sharing information is enough. That’s simply table stakes. Once you know what you want to communicate, you need to think about how to engage your audience and keep them engaged for the duration of the event.
It doesn’t have to be that hard. Many leaders simply need to think about the variety of ways they could engage the particular audience, and pick what seems like a good fit.
Now, Jesse and Marty are back with 18 more tricks that have proven effective in engaging an audience – whether giving a presentation, speaking to employees, or even meeting one-on-one or in a written communication. Use one or more (but not all of them) in any given communication.
- Ask them to fill in a __. This tactic is similar to a quiz, but you use it to introduce each of your main points. This invites the audience to subconsciously make the information their own.
- Lead them in a game. If you can teach or reinforce a concept through a game or other activity, more people will get it and remember it. Kent Julian uses a game with children’s building blocks to demonstrate the DISC personality profiles, and people love it.
- Use a game-inspired tactic. As gamification has shown, you don’t have to create a full-blown game to engage people. Incorporating simple aspects of games (especially video games) can be very effective. For example, boost your quiz by keeping score and providing a leaderboard. Or pump up your brainstorming exercise by letting people vote on their favorite three ideas.
- Summarize in a short sentence or slogan. This doesn’t have to be cheesy. Many world-class speakers like Andy Stanley discipline themselves to always reduce their message down to one sticky statement that they’ll repeat a few times throughout their speech. And sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be cheesy: for example, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
- Show a short video. Motion pictures were first produced in the late 19th century, and people have been addicted to movies ever since. A 2-3 minute video to illustrate a point does wonders for sucking everyone in.
- Use repetition. When you say something again, it’s unusual so people take notice. When you say something again, people realize it must be important. This works whether the repetition occurs immediately or at intervals throughout the communication.
- Surprise them. The unexpected always draws attention. You can share a startling fact or show an unusual photo. Or you can set up the audience to expect one thing, but then surprise them with something else: “Many people assume most video game players are young boys. But the average age is actually 35, and 47% are women.”
- Use humor. A sub-set of surprise is humor. Unless you know from experience that you are an effective joke-teller, canned jokes are risky. However, everyone loves a person who doesn’t take himself or his topic too seriously. If there is an opportunity to poke fun at yourself, to show a funny picture or cartoon that’s relevant and appropriate for your topic, or to otherwise give your audience a chance to laugh, you’ll earn some of their attention and make an emotional connection.
- Pause. Communication coach Stacey Hanke says adding pauses is the number-one habit she helps communicators develop. “The power of the pause is phenomenal,” she says.
- Make eye contact. This is another tip from Stacey Hanke. “Only speak when you see eyes,” she says. “All other times pause.” I have found this to be hugely helpful in both keeping my audience focused on my message, and in gauging their attention so I can pace my message appropriately.
- Listen. “When people talk, listen completely,” said Ernest Hemingway. “Most people never listen.” So if you listen, you will stand out. Whether you are communicating one-on-one, in a small group, or with a large audience, look for opportunities to hear from people –– and then truly listen to the meaning of what they say.
- Use a numbered list or a countdown. Channel your inner David Letterman, and organize your communication in a way that lets people count the progression.
- Use an acrostic. It seems silly, but it’s the way our brains work. If your presentation or written people can be summarized as the “R.E.A.L. principle” or the “6Ds of effective gamification,” it holds people’s attention better and is easier to remember.
- Share someone’s testimony. Whether you tell an individual’s story, or invite them to share it, or play of video of their story, you are tapping into the power of a special kind of story. People don’t contribute money to solve world hunger; they sponsor Carmen from Bolivia.
- Use a metaphor or symbol. Symbols and metaphors are mental shorthand. They help you communicate clearly, succinctly, and memorably. They also take an abstract concept and make it real. My cat Maple is much simpler to grasp than “audience engagement.”
- Provide an example. You may not need to go all Shakespeare-like with symbols and metaphors. Often just a real-life example will do. An executive at a large automotive company always spoke in broad philosophical principles, such as “harnessing efficiency.” I coached him to follow up with a concrete example, such as “changing the way we provide sales quotes for customers, so we can respond to them faster and more consistently.”
- Challenge them with a puzzle. Pose a visual or mental puzzle, and allow several seconds for your audience to solve it. I recall Steven Covey using this approach to illustrate gestalt switch (“Do you see an old woman in this image? A young woman?”) when he taught about the concept of paradigm shift.
- Be human. Always looks for ways to reveal you are a real, authentic person. This may mean revealing some of your quirks. Or it may mean providing ways for people to see that you have a life outside the fish tank. When I discover a new author, one of the first things I do is see if they are active on Twitter or provide regular blog posts. And more than that, I check to see if their tweets and posts are human and authentic – not robotic or delegated.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Podcast: 026: How to Improve Your Public Speaking and Be a Leader Worth Following | with Kent Julian
- Podcast: 036: 4 Ways to Improve Face to Face Impact | with Stacey Hanke
- Podcast: GC01: 6 Steps to Effective Gamification | with Kevin Werbach
- Blog: 26 Ways to Engage Your Target Audience
- More Engaging Leader articles on Gamification
- Book Review of Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication
- For more information on sponsoring a child, visit Compassion’s website
- Article from Live Journal on Paradigm Shifts
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