How to Make Your Audience Listen When Public Speaking

By Wikimania2009 Beatrice Murch (originally posted to Flickr as Audience) [CC BY 2.0 or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsDoes your audience tune out? Do you have trouble keeping them engaged?  It's challenging enough to get the attention of one listener. It's even harder to command a large audience. With less time to do more, competing priorities and so much incoming data, most audiences are on sensory overload. It's no wonder people are on their smart phones instead of listening to you. How can you grab attention in an A.D.D. world?

Here are 3 simple tips to get any audience to listen to you: Provoke, Evoke, Poke.

Provoke. Are you delivering the same old same old? A professional speaker shared a recent experience he had with his audience. During the beginning of his presentation he looked out on a group actively engaged with their phones. A few minutes later he noticed heads starting to bob up. Then they put their phones down and started to listen. Apparently he had said something that got their attention.  Step one is to provoke the audience by delivering new information, controversial content or something that is thought provoking. It doesn't have to be cutting edge but it should be something that makes them think. How can you say something in a new way? How can you connect the dots in a way that they haven't heard before?

Evoke. Beyond thought provoking content, strive to evoke an emotional response. The best way to trigger an emotional experience is through stories and humor. Help the audience experience a feeling as you take them through a journey of highs and lows. When information is anchored to an emotion, the message sticks. Think of a moment of crisis. Most people can remember where they were during the 911 attack in New York City. What will evoke an emotion in your audience? Try showing a motivational video clip or a funny cartoon.  I remember watching a video of a woman who was confined to a wheel chair who took took her first skydive jump strapped to the instructor. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Whenever there is strong emotion, the audience will be engaged.

Poke. Another way to get your audience to listen is to poke them physically. Get them out of their heads and into their bodies. Invite them to enter the world of activity. Most audience members expect to sit back and be lectured. Don't spoon feed them. Make them part of the presentation. It can be as simple as asking them to repeat a refrain. Repetition is powerful. Ask them to stand and turn toward their partner. Let them participate in a poll. One speaker would sporadically flash a slide of a fish. Whenever they saw the fish, the group was expected to do a clapping rhythm the speaker taught them. Their eyes were glued to the screen as they eagerly anticipated the flashing fish.

And if getting them away from their phones is like taking away Linus' blanket, follow this old adage: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I project hashtags for my presentations, along with my twitter handle and ask them to tweet. It causes the audience to listen and you also get social media klout.

The most important question is: Are you listening to the audience? March is Listening Awareness month. Remember to listen.

The Greatest Present You Can Give Your Audience

I was walking toward the subway and as usual, people were hurrying home. As I continued up the street I saw someone coming toward me. I started moving to the right in order to avert a head on collision. How did I know we would bump into each other? The person approaching me was a young man who was wearing headphones and looking at his cell phone. As he continued to move straight in my direction, he never looked up. He wasn't aware of his surroundings. He wasn't present.How often do speakers focus on what they want to talk about? They report facts and figures without sharing experiences. They talk at people instead of conversing with them. In sales presentations the seller touts the product or service. He brags about their company. Or the presenter gives the same dog and pony show without considering what's important to the audience. I once heard a celebrity speaker tell the audience that he decided to talk about a different topic than was advertised in the promotion. These kinds of speakers become talking heads. They're driven by their own egos. When you focus on content instead of context, you lose the connection. And the audience will disengage.

The best public speakers are truly present. That means eye-to-eye contact, listening, positioning the message in terms of what the audience wants, and helping them to connect the dots to their real world experiences. Jesse Jackson once said to parents, "Your children need your presence not your presents." It's the same with an audience. To be present is to first be connected to yourself. When speakers are comfortable with themselves and talk from the heart, they receive the audience, and then they connect. There is nobody in that moment but the audience. And in that moment they are truly present.

What Accupuncture Taught Me About Public Speaking

Last week, I was at the doctor's office getting my second acupuncture treatment for a shoulder injury. The first treatment went well. I enjoyed the stillness as the doctor silently inserted the needles along my arm and neck I expected to feel a sharp jab. But I didn't feel the needles. It sounds hard to believe but you really don't feel much. It felt relaxing as I sat there hooked up to electrical stimulation for about 20 minutes. The following week I had another appointment and this time the doctor was very chatty and loud. He inserted a needle in my neck like the last time but this time I yelled out, "Ouch. That hurt". What was going on? The doctor kept talking. He probably felt more comfortable chatting with me but I preferred the stillness to the conversation. He left while the acupuncture did the work. When he returned, he was quiet as he removed the needles. Ahh. No pain.

I pondered why it hurt the second time and realized that he wasn't centered, in the moment, in the zone, or on me. He was focused on his verbal chatter. It made me think about public speaking. We can give the same presentation and be good one time and off our game the next time. While there are factors such as time of day, the audience, the room temperature, the venue-these are excuses. A professional speaker can rise above it all. I think we lose our momentum, the magic, the impact when we change our focus. When we turn our focus inward on our insecurities, nervousness, or the bad day we had it's like walking on pins and needles. We lose focus when we forget the reason we're speaking is to make a difference, an impact on other lives. Just like the experienced doctor who talked throughout the procedure, when we have a monologue with ourselves instead of speaking to the audience, it can feel like that jab in the neck. Public speaking is not about running our mouths. It's about connecting. It's about conveying a message. It's the meeting of minds and hearts in the words and in the silence.

One Minute Listening Tip: Listen To Understand

Listening is the foundation of communication. Yet, many people think they are listening when all they're doing is waiting for their turn to speak. True listening starts with an intention. What is your intention when you communicate? Watch this video to learn how to deepen your listening skills and take them to the next level.

One Minute Listening Tip: Body Language

What words conceal, the body reveals. Body language accounts for 55% of the message. If you turn off the sound on your video or TV screen you'll be able to read the mood of the speaker. We can hide our true thoughts by choosing words carefully. Politicians are adept at dodging questions and issues by using language skillfully.So listen to  the body  language. The body doesn't lie.  This video will show you the importance of body signals. The most effective listeners tune into non-verbal communication.

One Minute Listening Tip: Vocal Tone

Vocal tone is 38% of the message. Too often people listen to the words in favor of the tone. When this happens miscommunication almost always results. The meta message is in the vocal tone. The voice is the barometer of the emotions. If you listened to a foreign language you would be able to determine the mood of the speaker without understanding a word. Effective listening skills require that you detect  nuances of  vocal tone. Listen to this video and learn how to tune into tone.

One Minute Listening Tip: Controlling Emotions

What does listening have to do with controlling emotions? By the time we get into an emotional state, we've stopped listening. When emotions are high, either walk away or ramp up your listening. The ideal situation is to head off emotional situations before they blow up. That requires good listening skills. How do you prepare yourself to listen in volatile situations? Watch this video and find out.


One Minute Listening Tip: Listening CPR

Communication is about a sender and a receiver. Sometimes the message we send gets filtered by the receiver and conflict results.  This can happen to the best of speakers. When people start attacking, the natural reaction is to defend or retaliate. A better approach is to use listening CPR.  Listening is a powerful communication elixir. You don't need to be an eloquent speaker to listen effectively. But there are some tools you can practice. This video will show you how to use listening CPR to manage any conflict.

One Minute Listening Tip: Interrupting

One of the most annoying listening behaviors is interrupting.  People interrupt because they listen to respond.  They're simply rehearsing their answers and waiting until they have their say.  Frequently, they interrupt because they're really more concerned with being understood than being understanding.  This is not listening.  True listening is suspending the ego and focusing on the other person. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Grant that I may not seek to be understood, but to understand."

You can change your listening behavior.  Watch this video to learn how to stop interrupting and use effective listening skills.

Listening: The Foundation of Communication

Good speaking means good listening. Listening is the #1 communication skill for leadership, selling, customer service, and even romance! The problem is, most of us don’t listen very well. We’re not trained to listen and we don’t even realize that listening is a skill. People have lost jobs, customers, employees, and relationships because of an inability to listen.  How do you  become a better listener?

Listening Means Peace Sheng jen is the Chinese word for wise person. It literally means “one who listens.

What's Your Listening Style?

Most people are poor listeners. Even though you may pay attention and not interrupt, if you are using the wrong listening style your message may not get through. Or, you could create conflict because of an inflexible mode of listening. Do you know that there are five different listening styles? Being an empathic listener may not always be effective if it's the wrong situation. In this brief video, you'll learn about the five listening styles. Remember, there is no such thing as a  bad listener. There are only people with  inflexible listening habits.

Do You Suffer From Verbal Diarrhea?

Situation: Donald was a director-level manager who was getting complaints from his boss that his voice-mails were long-winded and that his rather business-like demeanor was failing to gain buy-in from his staff. One of Donald's biggest problems was that he didn't listen. His conversations were like running monologues and it was difficult for others to break in. His assignments lacked the detailed information required to get the job done. Solution: Through the Exec-U-Lead coaching program, I worked with Donald on developing a concise message. The target was getting Donald to deliver a 30 second voice-mail message, which he nailed. In the next phase, Donald practiced listening and relationship skills by sharing something personal and asking people about themselves. Result: Donald's boss was pleased. He reported that Donald's voice mails were now concise and that his personality was coming through to his staff at meetings. He was listening more and explaining the purpose of team tasks. Donald felt good about being more respected.

Do you know people who talk incessantly? Do they leave long lingering voice mails? They can learn to cut to the chase and listen more effectively.