The worst dates are one-sided, where one person rambles on and on about herself - spewing mundane details and bragging about accomplishments. It's as if you aren't even there! We all have a basic need to be liked by others, and some people fulfill this need by trying too hard to impress.
Relate this to your speaking experiences. Sometimes speakers are so concerned about doing well that they forget the most fundamental aspect of public speaking: the speech isn't for the speaker, it's for the audience. Remember that your audience is in the room and that they are here to learn from you.
Know your audience. In a recent radio interview, actor David Spade said that when he does stand up comedy, he asks the host for the name of the local grocery store so he can use it in his material. Something as simple as the name of that grocery store made the audience believe the routine was tailored for them.
Remember the audience, learn who they are and use that knowledge to make them feel like participants in the presentation, not simply spectators.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are listening to a person talk and talk and talk, but really have no idea what he is saying? Talk about a bad date!
Likewise, listening to a speaker who rambles on without any apparent structure is pure torture! By organizing your speech into memorable parts, the audience will be able to not only understand the arc of your argument or the point of your presentation, but they will also be more likely to remember what you said long after you've said it.
The old rule is to divide your speech into three easy-to-remember parts or clever mnemonic devices. Of course, this depends on the length of your presentation. The more your speech or presentation is like a long, unorganized rant, the more likely your audience members are to think, "What!?"
Get into your audience's head. Ask yourself what it would feel like to be an audience member listening to your presentation. Does it make sense? Will it be remembered? Organizing your content so the audience can learn from it is the mark of a savvy and trustworthy presenter.
Recently, a friend confided that she had gone on a blind date with a very good-looking man. She described the evening and seemed excited about the prospect. Then she told me about his yawning habit. He kept yawning and yawning - but she rationalized that he was just tired because he was a very hard worker.
More likely, I said, he was bored. And you know, he never called again. Not to be harsh, but what more does a person need besides a neon sign that says "I'm uninterested!"
As a speaker, your audience will give you the same signs. The audience is a constant source of immediate feedback on how you are doing. Use them as your main resource. Remember, they are there and they are listening. Use their nonverbal cues to modify or maintain.
For instance, if your audience members are lolling their heads back and forth and "resting their eyes," use this as a clue: You're boring! At this point, you'll need to modify by spicing up the presentation. Of course, this isn't the easiest thing to do.
Some good advice is to have a backup plan, a reliable insert that you can add to your presentation at a moment's notice to "get your audience back."
Think about past presentations, either your own or another speaker's. What was it that made you interested and engaged? What was it that made your audience laugh or participate? On the other hand, let's pretend that your audience members are laughing and participating - they are fully engaged, nodding their heads, leaning forward, agreeing - then keep on doing what you're doing. If you maintain your enthusiasm and interesting dynamic, your audience will appreciate your energy and might even ask you out again.
People love to talk about themselves. You love to talk about you and I love to talk about me. It's not conceit; its human nature. Think about a successful date. Did your partner ask you questions? Was he or she interested in your life? Ironically, the most interesting people are those who direct the focus onto you.
It's the same with presentations. The speaker who is the most interesting and who has the most control is the speaker who can shift the perspective onto the audience from time to time. Getting audience members involved by asking questions is a valid and effective way to keep them engaged.
Never Say NO
Once you've asked a question, whether to a specific person or to an audience in general, wait for the answer. People need time to think. When an audience member responds to a question - never respond negatively or you will lose rapport with the audience. You can always twist a response to reflect a positive answer even if the response is incorrect or not on the track you are heading.
For instance, in response to an incorrect or off-topic answer you might say, "What a unique perspective!" "How interesting! Does anyone else have any ideas?" When there is a pattern of negativity, it is more difficult to keep the audience engaged and involved. The listeners may walk away feeling a visceral sense of disapproval. Just like a successful date, the more a person validates your ideas and the less s/he negates your perceptions, the more likely you are to remember the experience as pleasant and valuable.
Capture them with content
Predictable romance isn't romance at all. Fresh ideas, humor and spontaneity are always more romantic than foreseeable, dull outcomes. This is true in dating and in speech-making. Now that you've planned a speech structure that will help your audience remember what you've said, it's time to fill that structure with interesting content.
It's one thing to "know your stuff," but it's quite another thing to communicate your knowledge in a way that won't bore your audience. You may know every single minute financial detail of the new real estate project you are presenting, and that's a good thing. Now, how can you communicate your ideas so the audience will understand the major points, remember what they need to remember, and find you interesting?
It's about how you present. Add humor where you can. Use metaphor to make examples more appealing and easier to grasp. Tell brief personal stories where appropriate. And use your knowledge of your audience to relate the material to their lives - keeping them involved and engaged. How you frame those minute financial details will make all the difference when it comes to your audience's level of interest.
It may seem obvious that enthusiasm and dynamism are attractive, but think back to Mr. Boring. You know the guy - monotone voice, unconfident posture, dull personality, predictable sense of humor, humdrum stories and an overall lackluster persona. Or maybe you don't remember him because he was so ultimately and completely forgettable.
It's the same with speakers. It's amazing how unforgettable a presentation can be if you convey a sense of enthusiasm and encourage your listeners to feel energized as well. Actually doing this can be difficult, especially for novice speakers and apprehensive leaders. But the good news is that once you've prepared a solid organizational structure, filled that structure with appealing content and rehearsed your presentation to your comfort level, energy is inevitable.
Sometimes, speakers get so caught up being anxious about that one little detail, being nervous about those pesky verbal tics, or being tense and edgy about that one fact or figure that they forget the audience is in the room and that they, too, begin to feel the anxiety, nervousness, tenseness and edginess. Learning how to prepare and rehearse speeches helps to reduce the intensity of the delivery and helps shift the focus onto the enthusiasm with which it is delivered.
Hopefully, your presentations will have a sound organizational pattern and interesting content, but no matter how great your patterns or content are, a lack of energy from you translates into a lack of energy from your audience. There isn't anything more pitiful than a room of uninterested, unenthused, unengaged people listening to an uninteresting, unenthused, unengaged speaker. On the other hand, there isn't anything more exhilarating than a room full of involved, engaged, and excited people learning from and interacting with an involved, engaged, and energized speaker - except maybe a really great first date!
Romance isn't always about your interpersonal relationships. Using the same ideas you would use to impress a date or the same standards you would use to dump a date can be useful when considering your audience. The more you think about your audience, the better your own speaking abilities will become.
Romancing your audience is about remembering your audience and catering to their interests, their knowledge-level, and their most basic human needs. After all, it really isn't about you, it's about them.