To be an effective, engaging presenter, you have to let go of your own internal conversations and focus on your audience. This means you have to care sincerely about and want to connect with each person in the audience. They need to know that you are putting their needs first. That means you need to know enough about them so they feel they can trust you and will want to listen to you.
Research. We all despise the speaker who delivers his presentation on autopilot, never changing a word. It is the same presentation for one audience as it is for a completely different audience. To engage an audience, a presenter needs to find out their hopes, fears, and interests. Take the time to understand the people, their backgrounds, and the collective culture—often called the “personality” of the group—so you can connect your comments with what they care about.
Content. The actual message you share should address the issues that your audience cares about, not the ones you think they should care about. This is a subtle distinction with dramatic implications. If you do not address something that helps them make their lives better or improves the life of someone they care about, you are dead on arrival.
Make It Personal. Few things can help you bond and establish a connection with a group better than knowing and using people’s names.
• Obtain a participant list ahead of time and read through the list out loud several times. If possible, learn the correct pronunciation of the difficult names.
• As you meet a new participant, say her name quietly to yourself a few times and make any associations that will help you recall the name later.
More “We” than “Me.” If you are truly focused on the audience, you will use more inclusive language. Rather than saying “I did this” and “Look at me,” you will inherently talk more about them, using either the words “you” or “we.”
Listen. As you are speaking, shift your focus from how you are doing to how the audience is doing. When you “listen” to the audience, you are much more aware of their verbal and nonverbal reactions during your speech. Are they smiling and nodding their heads? Yes; you are in the zone.
Adjust. As you listen to your audience, you can either continue as planned or adapt your speech. Because you aren’t going to hit the mark all the time, always prepare a plan B to pull out of your back pocket. Audiences are quite forgiving as long as they know you care about them. They want you to succeed. So if one technique doesn’t work, try another until you do connect.