Engagement is King
Whether your audience is a roomful of caffeinated convention-goers or a lone gatekeeper to potential employment, your first task is engagement. Those initial seconds will either open a pathway or lay the first bricks of a wall — and unfortunately, it's easy to unwittingly build barriers.
So how can you better forge connection with your audience instead?
As a reformed speech class dropout who grew into public speaking and radio/TV interviews, I'm prime proof that engagement skills can be learned and improved upon. Presentations and interviews represent high-pressure connection opportunities, and your engagement skills are an essential career tool—as valuable as your well-crafted resume. How can you better connect with your audience and improve your success rate in critical fail-or-fly moments?
12. Monitor Your Fuel
I recently declined a pre-speech glass of wine, explaining, "once you've burped into a microphone, you learn to limit the opportunities for embarrassment." While my mic mishap occurred during a commercial recording session, following that fateful sound check I developed a sudden and enduring preference for room temperature water before all speaking events and job interviews.
Fuel your body for performance. Avoid sugar rushes and heavy or spicy foods. Be sure to eat something and to maintain hydration, but be selective. It's hard to engage when you're concerned about delivering more than witty repartee.
11. Turn Anxiety Into Energy
Anxiety will drain unless it is aimed, so harness those butterflies. Make them fly in formation and "power up" your presentation.
Tension will show up in hunched shoulders, a clenched jaw or fist and in the pinched or higher pitched tone of your voice, so focus on slowing both breathing and pulse—and on relaxing those shoulders back down from your ears. Pay attention also to the pace of your speech. If your word flow matches a racing heart, you'll only increase your anxiety. Let natural pauses happen and resist the urge to fill them with extra words or nervous verbal tics. Aim to sustain eye contact with individual audience members.
A tentative speaker may soon be confronted with a sea of phone surfers or—worse—sympathetic body language better aimed at a bowling ball.
10. Take a Breath
One of my speaking low points came right after college — a live TV interview in front of a large July 4th crowd. After I had managed a few reasonable responses, the reporter lobbed me an innocuous but unexpected closing question, and I "false-started." As I babbled an unfocused response, my inner voice soon instructed me to "Stop talking. Just...stop!" But alas, I couldn't punctuate an ending and skidded into a cringe-worthy spinout instead.
Taking a single breath while maintaining eye contact can add credibility to your response while buying you essential word gathering time. Connecting with an audience is irrelevant if you haven't first connected with your own thoughts.
9. Know Your Message
Unless you anticipate a Vegas-style floor drop, craft more than a strong opening — you'll need to back up that great opener with a solid ending and some engaging content in the middle.
Put the time in — whether in preparation of your speech or in crafting answers to "most likely" interview questions. Research, practice in front of a mirror, or use a video camera or friend to add professional polish and credibility. Few of us can truly "wing it" well. Clarifying your thoughts into descriptive phrases will enable coherent expression to triumph over belabored bumbling in those inevitable anxious moments.
8. Even the Playing Field
Tech columnist Greg Gazin cautions against "preaching" and using words like "should." This approach is off-putting and likely to create distance from your audience. Be the expert you are — after all they've hired or asked you to interview because of perceived mastery. But keep it all eyeball-to-eyeball. Antonio Galotta, with the communications office of the Italian Air Force, says to remember you're speaking to selective adults, not children who "will only spend their time for something useful."
Be conversational. Respectful. Envision yourself talking across the podium or desk instead of from behind it.
7. Create Community
Many professional speakers advocate drawing the audience in with an activity or question as it invites more active listening. "Engage them and interact with them... And have them engage with each other," says Steve Cherches, co-founder and COO of Big Blue Gumball. Professional speaker Dale Fox advises that posing "a question...automatically engages their minds."
A speaker can establish relevancy by tying her topic to a common life experience with a question. An employment applicant should use questions to gather information that will clarify job fit. Demonstrating genuine attention to the company's strategies and interests is an intelligent approach that will establish you as a more credible candidate with a potential role in the company's future. Questions create conversation—which drives community.
6. Hear Yourself Speak
Ever done one of these? "Hey, how are you?" "Not bad, how are you?" "Pretty good, how are you doing?" No, you didn't miscount. There was an extra inquiry in that exchange—and an instant deflation to perceived sincerity.
Don't be lulled by the sound of your voice traveling over familiar words. Letting your thoughts race ahead often leads to embarrassing "oh yeah, where was I?" moments.
Hone your concentration skills by disconnecting from both Internet and phone when rehearsing for a speech or interview. Be merciless by making yourself go back to the beginning when distracted, and you will get markedly better at staying on track—and engaged with an actual audience.
5. Make 'Em Laugh
The right kind of laughter can break down barriers far more effectively than the most carefully crafted Power Point. But "right kind" is critical to the successful use of humor. Obviously, refrain from the offensive, but also avoid the obscure. Maintain a broad frame of reference that connects with current events and embraces contemporary culture.
And you'll gain extra points for honing in on the inside jokes exclusive to your gathered group... When speaking to a roomful of second-time singles last month, I noted that imagining them on blind dates was more appropriate than the tired old "imagine your audience in their underwear" joke. Acknowledging that shared awkward experience created instant engagement. Nick Peterson, a professional speaker with Parkinson's emphasizes the importance of "affectionate (self deprecating) humor. If I'm putting myself down, I've lost them."
4. Spark Imagination & Imagery
Author Jane Atkinson advocates "(taking an audience) with you on the journey. (They) may have no desire to climb a mountain, but if you can draw the parallel of your journey with their own challenges" you can draw them into a common experience.
Life experiences vary, but by tapping into common emotions, a speaker can make the unusual relevant. When I speak of hiking adventures, it is usually in the context of family teamwork. Most audiences have no desire to tackle some of the treks I treasure, but they readily understand the elemental bonding born of a shared trial or test.
3. Be Flexible
Strengths Finder Coach Kathie Stoeckle Gautille says the speaker must also be an active listener, attuned to body language and audience responses. "If they don't appear engaged, I try to make it more interactive."
A responsive speaker—or interview candidate—will be perceptive to engagement level. If it's lacking, he will look for the disconnect and improvise a bridge.
The best-crafted communication is worthless if it doesn't connect with the intended audience. Be prepared to adapt your message to fit the needs of a specific situation. Facilitate understanding with a willingness to restate, regroup and redirect if necessary.
2. Be Relevant
Are you quoting last year's stats? On larger scale trends, this may not be statistically significant, but utilize key word searches to be sure you're communicating the most current information available.
And one speech does not fit all. Resist the urge to dust off "close enough." Audiences will vary just as individuals do. A smaller turnout, a less tech savvy perspective, even time of day will impact audience receptivity. It is your job to find the connection points and adjust them as needed.
1. Be the Authority
Compel attention from the beginning by being a first-hand reporter and delivering your own story. Anyone can give a second or third hand account of someone else's problem and solution. Instead, work to present a message wholly crafted around your unique perspective.
Starting generically with the intent of "warming up" to a more personal message is a risky delay. You may lose your audience while toe-testing the waters. Global business adviser and senior managing director of Liquid Leadership, Brad Szollose talks about the "energy shift" that occurs when a speaker launches into a personal story from the heart. "Sadly, even professionals wait TOO LONG into their speech to do this."
Personal passion is key and far more engaging than a perfect delivery. Optimally, you will present with both, but remember that you are often the biggest component of your message.
Use These Tips to Ask for More Money
Once you've mastered how to win people over, apply that knowledge to getting higher pay at work. First and foremost, you need a foundation from which you can negotiate if you're asking for a raise. And Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.
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