Five Ways To Be A Great Audience Member

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 8, 2014 – 9:20 pm

In my work with public speakers, I’ve learned how important it is for me to serve as a receptive audience for them.

Although I usually try to maintain an enthusiastic expression when I watch speakers deliver a practice speech, my less-than-enthusiastic thoughts and feelings occasionally become clear to the presenter—even when I’m trying to mask them.

“You looked like you were getting bored,” the speaker might say. “I’m sorry you saw that,” I’ll reply, “I’m usually better about maintaining a poker face. But you’re right that the presentation started to drag a bit in the middle, so let’s talk about ways to keep the energy up during that section.”

Looking out into a sea of blank expressions, empty stares, or skeptical faces can be devastating for a speaker, particularly one who lacks confidence or experience.

Audience Listening To Presentation At Conference

There’s an argument to be made that it’s incumbent upon speakers to grab and maintain the attention of their audiences. That may be true—but audience members who sympathize with the plight of a speaker who’s struggling can improve the experience for the speaker and the rest of the audience. (Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do.)

Many speakers tell me that the first few minutes of a presentation are the most critical for them to feel like they’re succeeding—so having a few friendly faces looking back at them can be all the encouragement they need to hit their stride and deliver a winning presentation.

Here are five ways to be a supportive audience member:

1. Listen. Even if the speaker is delivering his or her content badly, there may be an underlying message worth hearing.

2. Exhibit supportive body language. That means maintaining eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and nodding to indicate understanding.

3. Ask questions. If the speaker asks for participation and no one else is jumping in, try to help them by asking a question. This can be particularly useful for a speaker who is failing to deliver their content in a compelling manner—the right question can draw out a more interesting response (e.g. “You mentioned earlier that the new trucking route would save customers money and time. Can you provide me with an example so I can better picture how that would work?”). 

4. Put away your smartphone. Seeing audience members who are clearly checked out is distracting at the least and often downright demoralizing.

5. Offer gentle feedback after the presentation. You can help the speaker improve by offering encouraging feedback, such as: “It really resonated with me when you shared the story about the customer who canceled our service. If you present on this topic again, you might want to spend even more time on that story, because you had my attention during that whole section of your talk.”

What would you add to this list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 


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Another Good Way To Break The Pattern

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 25, 2014 – 6:02 am

Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of “breaking the pattern” when delivering a presentation.

That post discussed what you can do as a speaker to change your delivery approach frequently in order to maintain and regain your audience’s attention. But that article focused solely on the contrast you can provide during your own presentation—and there’s another key way to break the pattern that occurs when you’re speaking at a conference or multi-speaker workshop.

Before planning your own presentation at a conference, get a feel for the “default” speaking style most speakers plan to use. Hold a conference call with other speakers. Start an email chain. Talk to the conference planner.

Then, look for ways to break the default pattern.

Break The Pattern PPT iStockPhoto

Here are a few examples of providing a contrast between yourself and other speakers:

  1. If other speakers plan on using PowerPoint, consider going without it (or at least keep the screen dark for the first several minutes).
  2. If other speakers put complex technical information on the screen, consider handing out a well-designed one-page handout instead. Give the audience a few minutes to take in the content (they won’t be able to hear you until they’ve digested your content anyway), and then add context to the handout they just read.
  3. If other speakers will deliver their presentations from behind a lectern, request a lavaliere microphone and speak in front of the stage.
  4. If other speakers are dressed in business attire but your professional or personal brand is more business casual, dress in a manner consistent with your own brand (assuming, of course, that doing so would be appropriate to the occasion).
  5. If other speakers plan on taking audience questions only after they finish their prepared remarks, consider allowing questions and interacting with the audience throughout your presentation.

Doing something that breaks convention takes some boldness and courage. But the payoff for speakers who choose smart ways to stand out from their “competition”—and the battle to earn the audience’s long-term memory is competition—can be huge.

What are your favorite “pattern breakers?” Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 


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The Importance Of Breaking The Pattern

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 23, 2014 – 5:02 am

Humans evolved with a keen ability to detect motion and change in the environment. That was a particularly helpful trait for our ancestors, who were (hopefully) able to use their peripheral vision to detect large animals preparing to attack.

Although most of us are no longer fending off animal attacks, the evolutionary gift we inherited from our ancestors remains with us. We’re good at detecting change.

We’re not as good, however, with sameness. We acclimate quickly. Therefore, in order to maintain or regain an audience’s attention, speakers must frequently “break the pattern.” As Dr. Susan Weinschenk advises in 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, “Because people habituate to stimuli, it helps to keep things at least a little unpredictable.”

Break The Pattern PPT iStockPhoto

You can break the pattern in many different ways:

  • After sharing a few facts, tell a story
  • If you’ve been using PowerPoint, turn it off and move toward your audience
  • If you’ve been standing to the right of your audience, move to its left
  • If you’ve been speaking in a quiet tone, add volume to emphasize a key point
  • If you’ve been lecturing, pause and ask for a volunteer
  • Ask the audience a question, real or rhetorical
  • If you’ve been speaking, show a video or distribute a handout

Breaking the pattern should never feel gratuitous to the audience—and it won’t, if your pattern-changers occur at logical points during your talk, such as in between key points.

An unofficial trick of the trade is to mindful of “The Ten-Minute Rule,” which maintains that you should break your pattern at least once every ten minutes, the amount of time at which many audience members begin to lose their focus. Although ten minutes isn’t a fixed number (some people’s attention will begin to drift after four seconds, others after forty minutes), the rule serves as a useful reminder to break the pattern often.

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Why You Should Prepare A “Just In Case” Closing

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 10, 2014 – 4:22 am

A couple of our clients recently faced a similar situation. They were both pitching an idea to an important audience (a board of directors and an influential community group) and didn’t know how the audience would react to their recommendations.

In an ideal world, they would have been able to get a sense of their audience’s sentiments prior to speaking, but that wasn’t a reliable option in these cases.

As they practiced their talks, it became clear to us that they’d need to create two versions of their closings—one if their audiences supported their pitch, and another if their audiences were more skeptical.

That “just in case” closing was an important tool for both speakers to have at the ready, and it prevented both speakers from being caught off guard or closing with a discordant ending.

orator in public

As an example, here’s the “supportive” closing, which would be delivered after the Q&A period:

“For all of the reasons we’ve discussed today, I am confident that this proposal is the best option to help us achieve our core goals. Not only will this vendor’s software keep better track of our donors, but the software’s sophistication has led to increased fundraising—in some cases, dramatically so—for similar not-for-profit groups. As a next step, I will schedule a meeting with the vendor to get some hard numbers, after which I will report back to you with my recommended approach.”

Here’s an example of the “just in case” closing:

“After surveying the options available to our organization, I remain confident that this vendor is the best choice to help us accomplish our core goals. But your questions make clear that we need more information before making any commitments. As a next step, I will schedule a meeting with the vendor to get some of those answers, after which I will report back to you with their responses and my recommended next steps.”

Those two closings aren’t dramatically different—but if you delivered the first one to a group that challenged your recommendation, you would risk looking tone-deaf. Therefore, consider creating a “just in case” closing if you believe there’s a chance that your audience may not be ready to fully embrace your idea.

Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!


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Should You Really Use A Restroom Before A Speech?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 24, 2014 – 9:36 pm

Most speakers I know use the restroom before delivering a presentation. Doing so seems rather obvious—why would anyone want to be uncomfortable during a speech?

British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly disagrees. Before big speeches, Mr. Cameron occasionally avoids the restroom. He claims that the discomfort of a full bladder gives him energy and keeps him focused.

David_Cameron_(28_January_2011)

According to The Guardian:

“Cameron, it is said, used his tried-and-tested “full-bladder technique” to achieve maximum focus and clarity of thought throughout the grueling nine-hour session in Brussels. During the formal dinner and subsequent horse-trading into the early hours, the prime minister remained intentionally ‘desperate for a pee’.

Cameron has reportedly used the technique before, notably during his ‘no notes’ conference speeches during the early years of his party leadership. He heard about it when watching a Michael Cockerell documentary about the late Conservative politician Enoch Powell a decade beforehand. Powell – best known for his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 – remarked that he always performed an important speech on a full bladder: ‘You should do nothing to decrease the tension before making a big speech. If anything, you should seek to increase it.’

Perhaps the technique works for Cameron. But The Guardian points to a study that found that an “extreme urge to void [urinate] is associated with impaired cognition.”

I’m not sure I’ll be adding this technique to my suggested tips for speakers any time soon—but I don’t begrudge Cameron using this tactic if it works for him. In part, that’s because I have an odd—and admittedly outdated and cheesy—ritual of my own. As I’m being introduced before a big presentation, I play the theme song to Rocky in my mind. It pumps me up and allows me to walk to the stage with energy and purpose. 

That leads to a question: Have you ever used an odd method of pumping yourself up for a talk? What works for you? Leave your response in the comments section below.

Photo credit: World Economic Forum / Moritz Hager

 


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The Eight Causes Of Public Speaking Fear

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 13, 2014 – 6:02 am

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Gary Genard’s new book, “Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life,” which I reviewed here.

Please complete the sections below concerning the eight causes of speech anxiety. Answer the questions honestly and candidly. Your answers will help you know whether you have speaking fear, and identify the type of fear response(s) you experience. Knowing this information will help you zero in on the fear reduction technique best suited to your situation.

Feel free to answer, “Yes” to more than one of the eight causes. But once you’ve completed the entire exercise, go back and circle the name of the response that is strongest for you.

Fearless Speaking Cover

1. Learned Response

Are you still influenced by a negative public speaking or performance situation that happened to you in the past? Did something “teach” you that public appearances are unpleasant, risky, or even dangerous? Have you been afraid to get up in front of others since then?

2. Anticipatory Anxiety

Does the thought of giving a speech or presentation cause you excessive anxiety beforehand? Do you worry constantly about the upcoming speaking situation, lose sleep, have no appetite, or fixate on what’s coming?

3. Mindreading

Do you believe you know what your audience is thinking? Can you “hear” them in your own mind challenging and criticizing you? Are you certain that their facial expressions reveal their true feelings toward you?

4. Fear of Appearing Nervous

Is your greatest fear that everyone will see how nervous you are? In other words, do you think, “If I appear truly nervous, everyone will realize I don’t know what I’m talking about!” Is this your big concern?

Gary Genard Headshot

5. Fear of Going Blank

Are you afraid that nervousness and anxiety will make you forget everything you’re supposed to say? Do you picture yourself having a brain freeze? Are you convinced you’ll be unable to say anything or that you’ll forget key parts of your message?

6. Lack of Skills

Are you convinced that you simply lack talent as a public speaker and shouldn’t be up there? Are you afraid that you’ll be “found out” and your secret will no longer be safe?

7. Physical Reaction

Is your biggest problem the physical responses you have when you speak in front of others? Is your principal complaint dry mouth, pounding heart, gastrointestinal distress, racing pulse, sweating, shaky voice, gasping for breath, or other symptoms?

8. Performance Orientation

Is your principal concern that you have to be an excellent speaker? Do you compare yourself to other speakers, telling yourself you have to come up to their level? Is your skill in performance your major concern?

Well done! Now that you’ve identified possible anxiety responses, you can focus on the technique best suited to deal with that particular response.

Editor’s note: To learn the specific techniques that will help you address your primary source of public speaking fear, check out Gary’s book, Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life.

 


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Just Do It: Put The Clicker Down

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 7, 2014 – 6:02 am

When we conduct our presentation training sessions, almost every speaker begins their presentation with a PowerPoint remote in their hand. By doing so, they send a signal to their audience right from the start: Boring PowerPoint show about to begin!

The vast majority of presentations shouldn’t open with a slide. The opening moments are a critical opportunity to forge a connection with your audience, which is best accomplished by speaking directly to your audience, not by clicking to a boring agenda slide.

That being the case, there’s no need to keep the remote in your hand at the beginning of a presentation. If you’re using PowerPoint, you can pick up the remote when you’re about to click to your first slide, which may not occur until several minutes into your talk. And if there are long gaps between slides, you should put the clicker down during those gaps as well.

 

PowerPoint Clicker

This may seem like a small point, but it’s not.

Before our clients deliver their second practice speech, I ask them to put the clicker down. That small act often changes everything about their performance. They often move closer to the audience (they’re not tied to the screen), gesture more (they don’t have an object in their hand), and use the pronoun “you” more (they’re suddenly having a conversation with the audience, not presenting a slide). Simply putting the clicker down is a small move that offers almost magical powers.

My favorite clicker

Please don’t interpret this post as being anti-clicker. Remote controls allow speakers to move away from their computers and advance slides more subtly. I carry one in my backpack every day just so I always have one handy whenever I speak.

My only suggestion is that you don’t begin or end your presentation with one in your hand or hold it in your hand during long gaps without a new slide. Just place the clicker on a table or slide it into your pocket. 

If you don’t already use one, I really like the Targus Laser Presentation Remote, pictured above. All you do is plug a small connector into your laptop’s USB port, and the remote instantly works. And since it’s less than $25, you won’t be too upset if you accidentally leave it behind.

Want to learn more about public speaking and PowerPoint? Check out our recommended reading list!

 


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How To Never Attend A Boring Presentation Again

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 30, 2014 – 6:02 am

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a good friend’s daughter.

My friend made a few remarks at the reception—and during his comments, he mentioned that he was nervous to speak given that I, a presentation trainer, was in the audience. “I had a nightmare that Brad wrote a story for his blog that had the five biggest mistakes from my speech,” he quipped.

It turns out that he had nothing to worry about. He did a terrific job and infused his speech with good humor (one highlight came when he told the 13-year-old boys interested in courting his beautiful daughter, “Gentlemen, I look forward to getting to know you over the next few years.”).

But he’s right that I’m always watching other speakers—not necessarily to be critical, but to learn from them. And that means that I almost never attend a boring presentation.

Boring Seminar

Clients leaving our training sessions often remark that they’ll never watch a presentation the same way again. Instead, they’ll pay closer attention to every speaker they watch, noting why the good parts worked and why the bad parts didn’t. They no longer play the role of passive audience member; instead, they remain actively engaged from start to finish.

The next time you attend a “boring” presentation, conduct a mental exercise and ask yourself these types of questions: If I had to present the same information, what would I do differently? Would I have used a more compelling open, a better-designed PowerPoint slide, a group activity, or something else? Would I have abandoned the lectern, conveyed more enthusiasm, or engaged the audience with a topic for discussion?

If you approach attending “boring” presentations in that manner, you’ll never be bored again. But you will learn—and you will improve as a speaker.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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