Engage Your Audience
Have you ever listened to a talk at a conference or seminar and had trouble staying awake? Do you worry that when it's your time to give a talk, your audience might get just as bored?
The challenge is to ensure your story holds your audience, how to achieve a positive response so you know they are enthusiastic listeners.
Less is More
You need to understand the makeup of your audience. Who are they? What do they want to hear? Are they already highly aware of the subject or will they get lost if you delve into technical details? Will they be happy for an overview, or do they wish to understand all the ins and outs of how you arrived at your point of view?
Think about these things carefully as you write your talk content. Experts in any field may find it very easy to get excited about their favourite subject, and the might expect an audience will want all the details as well. Mostly, audiences cannot assimilate very much detail in a half hour talk however.
If you try to educate the audience up to your level of understanding, you may find they cannot keep up. Brains, struggling to make sense of huge amounts of new information in a short time, will fatigue; eyes will glaze over, people will nod off. Not what you are hoping for at all.
A good rule of thumb is "less is more". You only have 30 to 40 minutes, so pick the most important points you want them to remember. When you've thought about what your audience will want to know, your points should be in line with what is most useful for them. Focus on these points and leave out any detail that is not absolutely vital.
Avoid jargon. If you do need to introduce unfamiliar terminology, explain it so a 10 year old would understand. Audiences tend to let their minds wander when they are deluged with unfamiliar, but ill-defined vocabulary.
Introduce humour to your talk. Even highly technical topics will benefit from a funny story. Poke fun at yourself, help the audience laugh at mistakes you have made along the way. Humourbreaks up the serious bits of the talk and gives the audience air. Laughing literally puts more air into their blood stream and keeps them awake.
Make yourself easy to listen to by speaking slowly and clearly with good volume to reach the back of the room. If you talk at 100 miles an hour, or if you mumble it is hard work for the audience to concentrate on what you are saying. If you want to captivate your audience they must be able to hear you easily. This takes practice. Talking in front of friends or family, or perhaps colleagues who will give you honest feedback, is a great idea. Joining Toastmasters is an even better idea as your fellow Toastmasters will give you a full evaluation of what you are doing well and areas to improve.
Some speakers develop tics that detract from their message. Fidgeting, jangling keys in your pocket, scratching your nose, pulling on your clothes, flicking your hair out of your eyes, saying "um" and "ah" between each point: all of these things start to attract the attention of the audience. After a while the audience will be watching for each fidget or counting your "ums" instead of listening to what you have to say. You may be totally unaware of these little habits, but your audience will find them distracting. Again, practice talking in front of an audience that will give you honest feedback and they will gently bring these things to your attention so you can change your habits.
If you really want to engage your audience you need to interact with them in some way. Ask them questions, ask for a show of hands on who has had a certain experience for example. Talk to them, not at them. Eye contact is important here. Ensure you look people in the eye as you speak. Choose different people from different parts of the room and hold their eye contact for a few seconds at a time as you talk. This will help you talk to them as a person rather than talking to the room. Your talk will feel more meaningful and genuine if you do this.
Holding the attention of your audience, either one on one or when talking to a crowd, is important if you are keen for your audience to remember your message. Try these simple tips in your next talk and look out for more tips coming to TechBlog.
Success With Grace is home of the TechBiz Success Academy, specialising in helping technology based businesses grow. For information about TechBiz training and coaching please contact Heather Grace directly at her website.
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