Have you ever seen a rock concert where the singer holds out the microphone in the middle of a song.
And not surprisingly the audience sings the lyrics of the songs, while swaying madly to the music.
Your audience should be so adoring, eh?
Well, if you can't exactly be a rock star to your audience, you can most certainly create impact.
But won't your speech itself create impact? The brain has a tough time taking in new information. As you step up to give your speech, your audience has to process an enormous amount of information.
It has to process the name of the speaker, decide on the credibility, decide the importance and validity of the information—and stay focused on what you've got to say, despite a million thoughts running through their heads.
To get the impact your topic deserves, you have to remove all the hurdles in the audience's brain.
So how do you go about creating impact with an audience?
The three core steps are as follows:
1) Pre-warming the audience.
2) Carefully picking the time of day—depending on your topic.
3) Creating pre-speaking credibility.
Step One: Pre-warming the audience
Audiences don't always know what you're going to cover (even if you're making an internal presentation). This makes the audience unsure, and out of their comfort-zone. The more they're out of their comfort-zone, the more time they'll take to adjust to whatever you're presenting.
The way out of this dilemma is to send specific information to the audience in advance. I didn't say ‘information'. I said ‘specific information.'
Let's take an example
Let's say you have a website with information. You can jolly well send them to your website, but that would be a bit of a mistake. Just as it would be a mistake to send them a folder full of information, or even a booklet.
Because most audience members are way too busy to look at your website, folder or booklet.
But if you send them the website, folder or booklet and get specific, the results change dramatically.
So if you send them to your website, make sure that you point out a specific article that they need to read. If you send them a booklet, get them to read a specific set of pages e.g. Page 12-16.
When you're specific, you give your audience a chance to consume small bites of information.
If you aren't specific, the audience tends to put your website, booklet in their to-do list. And they never get down to looking at it. And even if they do look at the information at the very last minute, you've got them focused on a specific section.
And as a result, they're at least partially, if not completely pre-warmed.
But pre-warming is only part of the issue
Even a pre-warmed audience can't handle information at certain times of the day.
Step 2: Carefully picking the time of day depending on your topic
You know as well as I do, that the worst time of the day to give a presentation is about 45 minutes after lunch. But this so-called speaker's anecdote isn't absolutely true.
It depends on the type of speech you're about to give.
The only (yes, only) speech you should ever give 40 minutes after lunch is a ‘hands-on' speech. This means you give basic instructions, and the audience gets into discussion mode.
A speech that involves minimal listening, and consists of mostly instruction, is fine to give after lunch. The key is to keep the audience moving till just before tea.
So if you design a speech that involves lots of discussion and interaction, feel free to have it right after lunch.
But what if you're doing most of the talking?
If you're doing most of the yakkity-yak, you'll want to position your speech between the hours of 8-11am. This is the zone when the audience's brains are running at full power. And after a good night's rest they're ready to absorb what you have to say.
The more the day lumbers on, the more information settles into their brain. And this makes it harder to absorb the information. So I'd always recommend the morning sessions. Fight for your morning slot. It's well worth the slog.
However you could be the last speaker of the day and still be a super-hit
Provided you're a comedian. Seriously. I'm not joking. Some of us are exceedingly good at making people laugh with our stories. We can give a perfectly good business speech, and have the audience rolling in laughter.
If you're such a speaker, there's no time better than the last slot of the day.
This is because the audience is now filled to the brim with information. And is looking forward to some ‘infotainment'.
If you're capable of packaging the information in between peals of laughter, then it's fine to be slotted as the last speaker of the day.
But if you've got high-density information, you want to get to your audience long as early in the day as possible.
Of course there's always the issue of credibility.
Step 3: Creating pre-speaking credibility
In most cases, a speaker is introduced to the audience. However most people who introduce speakers are plainly bad at introductions.
They're either too soft. Too muffled. Or they read from a pre-prepared sheet and go on forever.
If you wait to be introduced to an audience minutes before you speak, you've waited too late. You want to make sure your audience knows about you days, even weeks in advance. That they've had a chance to see not only who you are, but what you've achieved. They should know if you/or your company has won any awards.
They should know everything they can possibly know, and a good chunk of this information needs to get to the audience long before the event itself.
Most audience members will indeed do their research if they're pointed in the right direction. Which means you should have the event publicized with the right information, well in advance.
Most speakers just don't do this groundwork.
They don't pre-warm their audience with specific information. They don't carefully choose speaking slots depending on their topic or style of speaking.
They don't create enough credibility before they show up—often waiting for the last minute.
If you want to be the rockstar at your presentation, make sure you do your homework. And you'll see the audience happily ‘singing' along!
Note: These steps apply to internal presentations too. e.g. Even if you're well-known in your organization, your audience may not know of new information such as awards, new books you've written, or new milestones achieved.
If you get this information across to the audience in advance, you're more likely to make an impact, whether speaking within or outside your organization.
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