One of the many challenges Zoom has presented to speakers is the ability to engage audiences one hundred percent. How do you engage an audience that is behind an invisible wall, many ask? That question has been debated over and over by both speakers and audiences.
Pre-Pandemic and Zoom, if you were comfortable facing audiences and blessed with an olive oil tongue, you had it made. You could wing it and live to wing another day. But to engage an audience over Zoom, to penetrate that invisible wall, you must imagine that your audience cannot see or hear you unless you break down that invisible wall that separates you, the speaker, from them, the audience.
New Toastmasters often go through a process of discovery. Initially, new speakers tend to focus on themselves while on the platform. Later, we go through a transformation. We stop focusing on how we look, feel, or even sound. Our focus shifts to how the audience looks, feel, and respond to our message. We realize it’s not about us. It’s all about your audience. And that invisible wall will come tumbling down when we shift our focus to our audience and speak to be heard, understood, repeated, and connected.
Sledgehammers are unnecessary; the process begins with good writing, editing, and delivery. The structure is also an integral part of the process. I once heard it said the great orator Winston Churchill could look at the structure of a speech and, without even reading a word, could tell if what he saw was a good or bad speech, all because of the structure. Do you ever focus on yours when you are preparing your speeches? What are your techniques for connecting with audiences?
Speakers can develop many well-known techniques to break through that invisible wall in their writing and editing phases. As you write and structure your speech, you must be aware of the parts of the audience’s body with which you are connecting. When you want your audience to think, address the head. If you can tickle the brain, that’s even better. Their reaction will tell you if you have got them thinking. You can then shift to the heart to have them empathize with you. Moving along, you may then speak to their hands to do something or feet to take some action. As you write, target with the intent to connect with your audience. Writing to connect takes practice. However, the more you do it, the better and more natural you will become.
All speakers know the power of storytelling. Many years ago, one of my mentors introduced me to the power of keeping story files. Today I have a few volumes of events I captured over the years. After writing down my experiences, I turn them into vignettes to be told at opportune moments. I advise you to keep your short stories simple, authentic, and creative. File them in a system that makes them readily available. Develop your storytelling skills by focusing on not just telling your stories but on taking your audience back in time with you. When you can re-live your experiences with your audiences, your presentations will long be remembered.
Asking your audience questions is another technique that engages audiences. Rhetorical questions are my favorite because you already know the answer. Asking questions of your audience can sometimes be risky. Know your audience. The method I often use is to preface the question with a setup. For example – It was a Monday morning. I was standing at my front door – fully dressed but still feeling as naked as the day I was born – Have you ever had that feeling. We all have when you feel like you forget something. There you have the setup, the question, and the answer. But there’s more. Then comes the pregnant pause – the silence that sends your message. Try it – It works every time. And trust me, your message will penetrate any wall between you and your audience.
One of the most critical steps in breaking down that invisible wall is bringing that speech to life. Moving your speech from your head to a script is only the beginning. Next, you have to move your speech to your heart. You must convince your audience that you are passionate about your subject matter. You don’t have to sound like a used car salesman. However, you have to sell your message with conviction. Use the tools you have mastered as you make your delivery. Be aware of your body’s spoken image, verbal punctuation, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. They all must work together in unison when you are on the platform.
The tools I have given you are just a start, don’t put them on the shelf. You must practice them until that wall becomes invisible to you and your audience. I believe the Pandemic and Zoom have provided us an excellent opportunity to become better speakers – not just virtually but in how we will communicate when we return to live presentations. Today I challenge you to break through that invisible wall when next you step on the platform. Tell your stories, ask questions, and use every muscle in your body to connect with your audience, and you will engage with them every time – 100 percent.