Put a two year old child in front of a Barney video for the first time, and watch the child’s face. It’s intent. It’s focused. And not very relaxed at all.
But put that child in front of that same Barney video for the seven hundredth time, and watch the anticipation on her face.
She’s shaking her arms and feet, nodding her head, and singing ‘B-I-N-G-O’ merrily.
You already know what causes the child to be so animated, don’t you?
Now if only your audience was quite as animated when you stand up to give a presentation or make a speech. Instead most audiences are quite rigid. They look at you like you’ve just landed from one of Jupiter’s sixty-two moons.
So how do you get an audience to warm up really quickly? You ask ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ questions.
So what’s an ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ question?
An ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ question is where there’s no wrong answer.
It’s an easy question where everyone knows the answer the moment the questions floats through the air.
This ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ question is one that gets the audience to feel safe enough to raise their hands or call out the answer.
So let me give you an example:
When I’m doing a speaking engagement for the Brain Audit, I’ll do a preset format to get the audience’s attention.
I’ll sit on a chair. And get up.
I’ll sit on a chair. And get up.
I’ll sit again. And then I’ll get up for the third time.
Then I’ll turn to the audience, and say: So why didn’t the chair break?
Do you know the answer to the question?
You may not know where I’m headed with my line of thought, but the question is completely non-threatening. Which causes several members of the audience will call back their versions of the answers.
“You’re not fat enough,” they say.
“The chair is built to take a lot of sitting and standing up.”
“The chair is designed for people to sit on.”
Within minutes you’ve got a rather quiet audience to get involved. And as you already figured out, there’s no wrong answer.
So here’s another example:
I talk about driving from one state to another. And how I’m listening to the music in my car, and how I have not a care in the world. And my speed limit goes up from 70 kph, to 80kph, to 110kph.
And then from the corner of my eye, I spot a cop car ahead. So what do I do next?
See? You know the answer already.
When you know the answer, you get participative. Even if you’re not calling out the answer out aloud, like some of the audience members, you’re verbalising the answer in your mind.
And every time I get you to answer the question correctly, the stiffness rolls out of your body and brain. You start to relax.
But won’t all this ease make the audience overly chatty?
No it won’t—provided you keep control. In every presentation, you have to move the audience between what I call ‘new’ and ‘knew.’ They‘know’ the answer to the question so they relax.
Then you pull out the ‘new’ stuff; the stuff that’s unique; the stuff that gets their attention and stops the chatter.
And as you swing between things they know the answers, or situations they’re familiar with—and then situations they’re not quite so chummy.
And you’ll notice the back and forth switching between excitement and curiosity.
Of course the question does arise: How many of these questions should you create in a single speech?
What I tend to do is create two or three of these questions so that they pop up within about five-seven minutes of my speech.
These five or seven minutes are the part where the audience is in the starchiest zone of all.
So making sure those questions roll out in quick succession is pretty critical in getting audience involvement.
But you must construct the questions using the following parameters
– The question must be so simple that anyone in the room can answer it.
– The question must align with what you’re going to say next.
– The question must appear almost ‘too easy’ to answer.
When you have these parameters in place, and you ask the ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ questions, you can be in a room of twenty people or twenty five hundred people. The result is always the same.
You’ll always find someone calling out the answers. And if you look around, you’ll notice that subtle shift in tension as the audience slides into a comfort-zone of sorts.
So here’s what you need to do:
1) Evaluate the content of your speech.
2) Pepper the first five-seven minutes with ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ questions.
3) Make sure no matter what the answer, your presentation can move along and is perfectly aligned with what you’re going to say next.
4) Use ‘new’ and ‘knew’ to keep control over the situation.
Do it right, and within seven minutes or less you’ll have that audience following your speech with the same gusto as the two-year old singing B-I-N-G-O.
And not only does the audience relax, but you do too. And yup, you’re well on your way to a rousing ovation.
P.S. Note: I used the same concept of relaxing you right at the start of this article.
I asked you: Do you know why the child is relaxed when watching the video for the seven hundredth time? And without thinking about it much, you knew the answer.
And so I eased you into the article, before I pulled out the sixty-two moons of Jupiter. Then again I eased you back, using the ‘new’ and ‘knew’ concept right through the article.
And what works for this article works will work just as well for your next presentation.
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Karl Sakas says
@Sean: Great framework — I’m going to use this during an “unconference” presentation later this month.
What’s your advice for what to say in response to the audience’s answers (so that we acknowledge the comment AND keep things moving along)? Do you suggest having a set of stock affirmative phrases (“Yes, that’s right” or “Good answer” or “Thanks for sharing”), or handling it some other way?
Sean D'Souza says
The most important point is to tell the audience that you will not be taking questions during the presentation. They need to write it down. And ask later.
Sean D'Souza says
As for their answers you can nod or acknowledge their response. And when you get the right answer, say: that’s what I was looking for. This means that the answers weren’t wrong, but you were looking for something specific.
Carole Bryant says
Sean, Your info is always spot on useful and relevant to my subject. I’ve applied many of your principles to my writing about getting the joy back into life.
It’s been said that little children live in a world in which they never know what to expect. When they get to watch a movie or program in which they know what’s coming next they’re comforted and confident…sounds like what we want for our audiences! Thank you for all the good stuff! Blessings, Carole Bryant
Rachel Simeone says
This is a wonderful tip… and a great way to start an email. I can’t wait to use it myself and share it with my clients.