The best keynotes are personal.
A great way to form a personal connection with your audience is to talk right to them. On a personal level, outside of your speech.
But, you still want to stay focused on your content. How do you balance this?
In this post, I’ll show you my trick for connecting with the audience during the first 30 seconds that you’re on stage – I call it the Lead in Question.
The Lead in Question
The lead in question is a quick question that seemingly has nothing to do with your speech. It sounds personal. It quickly puts your audience at ease so that you can casually start your speech as if it were a conversation, not a lecture.
I started using the lead in question while I was teaching public speaking at a community college. I found that the audience, college students, were exhausted after sitting through a bunch of classes and weren’t looking forward to another lecture (probably what some of your conference attendees will feel if you’re not speaking during the first day and the first round).
So, instead of jumping right in with facts and figures, I began opening with a seemingly unrelated question. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Usually, the question was something they could all relate to and something that could easily lead into my opening story.
Here’s an example:
Ahhhh Monday. I had a long weekend. Not quite ready for the week – what about you all?
Not directly related to my lecture, but they would drop their guard for a moment. They could respond. About something personal, not about class or tests or homework. And this will work the same for you -it gives the audience a chance to interact with you on a personal, not professional, level – even if just for a moment.
Now that you’ve asked the lead in question, you may or may not get a huge response. Depending on what you ask, you might just get smiles. A head nod. Or maybe a few people will shout something back. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Plan to transition into your opening story.
I keep it simple. My transition statement is usually something like, “That reminds me…” Or, “I was thinking about that this morning and I remembered…” Simple. Just a transition that opens it up to your opening story. Here’s an example.
Ahhhh Monday. I had a long weekend. Not quite ready for the week – what about you all? Yeah, I figured. I was feeling overwhelmed this morning and it reminded me of this funny story actually. It happened about a year ago. I was with my son….
And then I go into the story, which is now strongly connected to the speech topic.
If used correctly, your lead in question will get your audience to lower their guard and easily listen to your story – without feeling like they’re in learning or lecture mode. They’ll be absorbed in your story, and this will help them to feel a connection to you – because now they’re involved in a conversation – not a one-way communication where you are just speaking at them.
But, the lead in question does something else, too. It helps you, the speaker, ease into a speech in a very natural and conversational way. And this can greatly help you feel comfortable and act like yourself on stage, which will help you even more as you try to form a connection with your audience. It’s really a win-win.
Your turn – I want to hear, how do you start a speech? What tricks do you use to feel more comfortable or to connect with your audience? Let me know in the comments below.
I have a very vivid memory from when I was a little girl (maybe 3 or 4). I was standing with my parents. My mom was talking with my uncle. He was (still is) a nice guy. But, at the time, he had a beard, a mustache and glasses. So, obviously, he terrified me.
I didn’t tell anyone that, though. Instead, whenever he’d speak to me (like he was in this memory), I’d just stare at him without cracking a smile, or making a sound. (I’m sure I was his favorite niece 🙂
Some may have identified me an introvert.
Fast forward to 2002 and you could find me on stage in front of hundreds of my peers, facilitating workshops and weekend retreats.
Some may have labeled me an extrovert.
What changed? Nothing about my personality. Actually, I’m still that shy and quiet girl in a lot of situations. (We’ll talk more about overcoming this feeling when it’s time to take the stage next week). Maybe, no one actually knew what I was. After all, you can’t really tell by looking at someone, or even by watching them interact.
As a speaker, it’s really easy to get lost in the “Do I feel comfortable? Is this making me nervous? How is this experience for me?”
But, in reality, your keynote or workshop is an experience for everyone in the room. Not just you. And your audience is filled with introverts and extroverts alike, who all need to leave having had a great experience and taking along great memories from the day.
So how do you pull people out of their shell? How do you create an experience that inspires them to feel excited, and one that feels safe enough for them to speak up, laugh at your crazy jokes, smile, nod, raise their hand, and enjoy the interaction?
How do you create a truly engaging presentation that feels great for everyone (introverts and extroverts alike)?
In this post, we’ll talk about a 3 step process that’ll ease your audience into the comfort zone so they are ready to jump in, comment, laugh and cheer. The end result? A more powerful and memorable experience for all involved. Even you!
Warm them up
Some people will experience some butterflies in their bellies when an opportunity to speak in front of a crowd pops up, even if it’s just throwing out a quick answer from the crowd. This is especially true in a quiet room. Why not give them a chance to warm up? This way, they’re feeling confident – just like you!
To do this, encourage interaction right from the beginning, even before you start (officially) speaking. Interact with small groups or individuals before the event begins, or ask off the record questions to the group as you’re waiting for others to trickle in. These small, nonchalant interactions set the stage for a conversational workshop where everyone is ready to engage and speak up.
Be a mirror
Whether you’re aiming for laughter, tears, raised hands or out-loud replies, you can draw that out of your audience by doing it first. So, if you tell a joke, a chuckle might get the audience giggling. If you are telling an emotional story, and are truly sad, your audience will feel it too. Same goes with asking for interaction.
Here’s what you can do – as you’re asking the question, raise one hand – as you want the audience to if they agree. Or, nod your head. If they agree, they’ll nod back. Whatever response you would like, do it first. They’ll mimic you at first, but it’ll also warm them up so they’re more likely to respond that way later on.
It’s kind of like a rock concert. When the band wants you to clap along, they start clapping along. You start. Then they continue to play while you continue to clap.
Same thing. You’re a rock star. And your audience know it. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Clap those hands and the audience will follow right along with you.
Give them a chance to make a friend
Everyone is more talkative when they have a friend along for the ride. During the first day of my public speaking class, I’d encourage students to make a friend. I would claim the reason as having a future study buddy (which is possible), but really, it was so that everyone in the room would feel more comfortable raising their hand, shouting out answers, and just have more fun in class.
You can do the same thing and sneak in a little social time by claiming anything from networking to idea collaboration. If they know each other, they’ll feel more comfortable joining in and interacting with you and the group.
So, what do you think? Are you an introvert? An extrovert? Or somewhere in the middle? What strategies have you used to pull others out of their shell during your presentations?
How do you encourage your audience to jump in and get involved? Have you seen anyone else do this effectively? I want to hear your take below in the comments!
Interactive workshops are great ways to teach an audience a new skill – and usually a lot more fun to listen to than a straight up lecture. But, there are some challenges too. One challenge, which we’ll talk about in this post, is keeping the audience on track.
As a former collegiate instructor, I know all about getting off track. Some students make a game of it! But, the longer I taught, the easier it was for me to bring them back so smoothly that they didn’t even realize I was redirecting the conversation. It just felt like – well, just that! A conversation.
For most of you, you won’t have anyone in your audience making a game out of distracting speakers that they have paid money to see. But, there are still situations in which people just get side tracked – and bring the entire crowd with them.
Imagine these situations, maybe some sound familiar to you?
Situations like this aren’t uncommon. Whether or not the audience notices, or if they just have a great time, is all up to you. It’s about guiding the conversation in a way that feels right for everyone, in a way that allows everyone to take as much as they can from it. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
If it gets out of hand, you run the risk of going over your time limit (or getting cut off too soon), or leaving your audience feeling as though they didn’t get max value from the event.
Below are some tips that I’ve used while teaching college classes and various workshops throughout the years. Use one of these methods during your next workshop to keep everything on track, no matter what the audience throws at you!
Method 1: Give them another way to express themselves
Have someone who is taking over the presentation, but still want to save face by not embarrassing anyone? Encouraging the over-sharer to express themselves in other ways, or at other times, is a great strategy. Here are some ideas.
The over-talker might just have a lot to share and not know that the rest of the room isn’t quite as interested as he is. Or, maybe he is just too advanced and the conversation is too technical for the group, but you know you can still help him. Go ahead and invite him to come up afterwards and you can have a private conversation. This will allow him to get his questions answered while you still meet the needs of the audience.
If he isn’t monopolizing the conversation, but you just have to move on, you can always offer group time to share. This works well if a lot of people are excited and want time to share their ideas or wins, too. I also find that people enjoy the networking (with a focus) time. Let everyone know that they’ll have time to share and also to collect additional ideas in just a few minutes, while you continue with the material you need to cover.
Maybe you don’t have time to chat immediately after the presentation, but you want to make sure you address everyone’s concerns (and some concerns are taking longer than others). Encourage the over-talker to jot down his thoughts and contact you later via email or social media.
Method 2: Encourage others to share
Sometimes you’ll have someone who is making great points, but is a little intimidating to others in the room, or just isn’t giving anyone else a shot at participating. Maybe they’re participating so much because they feel no one else will. In this case, sometimes just offering a chance for someone else to speak is enough. Use these phrases to get everyone in the room feeling chatty.
So and so is on point! But I want to make sure the rest of you are on track too. Who else…?
Good point! Does anyone else see that differently?
That’s a great story. Love it. Does anyone else want to share?
Method 3: Have some go to phrases to bring the attention back to the topic at hand.
If there is someone in the audience who just needs some help focusing, have some go-to phrases that you can use to bring everyone’s attention back to the topic at hand. Again, the goal is to save face. So, the words are just as important as the non-verbals. Smile. Acknowledge their contribution (verbally and with gestures and head nods), and then move on.
Practice these phrases in conversations with friends to see how they feel. Notice your natural non-verbals and what reaction you get from a friend. If they seem happy to move on, you’re doing it right. If they feel snubbed, try a different phrase that feels more natural to you, or work on making them feel heard first before trying to transition.
Absolutely! And something else that I wanted to touch on…
Wow, that is a good point. I could probably create a whole other talk about that. But for now, I also wanted to get into…
That reminds me…
It’s like you’re reading my mind! I’m going to touch on that in a few minutes so we’ll come back to that.
Yeah, great points. I have a few posts on that – see me later and I’ll make sure I get those links to you. For now, I just want to touch on this next point because I think you’ll find it really helpful.
As you work with these techniques, you’ll feel more and more comfortable using them, and your audience will feel more and more comfortable receiving them. Soon, it’ll feel natural and easy-breezy!
How do you handle audience interaction? Do you try to control it or just let it take it do what it does? I’d love to hear your take in the comments below!
There are some experiences in life that you just can’t be too prepared for. A live speech is one of those things.
One place in which I see speakers drop the ball is when an audience member asks a question.
Sometimes it’s tough to think on your feet! Especially in front of a few hundred people.
Even if you know the answer, you might get tripped up in deciding how much detail to go into at that moment, or trying to decide what background info that person needs to know. There are a lot of split-second decisions to make in front of a lot of people. And, if you already feel a little anxiety, it’ll all just feel worse.
But, with just a little extra preparation, you can guard against this and appear professional and knowledgeable even when the audience throws something unexpected at you.
What is this extra prep? It’s an example bank. A collection of examples that you can pull from to ask a variety of questions so you’re ready for anything.
The first thing to do is gather a list of examples that you have on hand. If you already have a blog, podcast or vlog, this should be easy. Just pick ones you already use on a regular basis. Also take note of those you find yourself using in everyday conversation with clients.
Then, match these examples with a broad category of questions. For example, I know that people ask me about how to speeches a lot. I have a go to example about how to make mac & cheese that I use frequently. It can be adjusted for just about any how to speech question.
Outline the example
Take a minute to outline each of your examples. This is basically just a way for you to pick out the main points that you want to highlight so that when you’re on stage you’re not left searching for the words to explain this example. It’ll already be in your memory bank.
Create back-up slides
If your example is best explained visually, keep some extra slides at the back of your deck, or near where you’ll be discussing the point related to this example. And if the audience needs some extra explanations, you’ll have something ready to go.
If someone asks me a question that I feel could use another example, I’ll just quickly flip to the slide and walk through the example. This little trick makes you look extra prepared. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Your turn – what’s your tip for appearing extra prepared and guarding against unexpected questions on stage? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
So you want to teach your audience a new skill, but you don’t want to come across as the know-it-all, bossy and distant speaker – you want it to be fun, right?
Got it. There’s a way you can do it, and I’ve got a formula for it.
I learned this formula through trial and error while I was lecturing at a community college. I wanted to find a way to get the message across, because I felt that what I was teaching was really useful in the real world (public speaking), but I also knew that, coming into it, students were dreading public speaking. So, I had to make it fun and interactive so that they would both enjoy it and remember way more than they would otherwise.
Of course, we always want to start out with an opener. The goal here is to prime the audience. Just like you might have a pre-speech ritual to help you warm up, they’ll need some time to prep themselves for speaking and interacting with each other and with you. Give them the chance to do that here.
Start out small by encouraging them to shout back or raise their hand or even just nod in agreement. Ask simple questions that have a simple “yes” answer. They’ll start getting into it and begin to warm up their vocal chords.
You could also give them a chance to interact with the people around them briefly by just introducing themselves. This way they have a friend moving forward!
After you prime the audience, you’ll want to jump right into your first step in your process – the first thing they’ll need to do if they’re learning this new task. A mistake I sometimes see here is that speakers will give too much unnecessary info before going into this step. But, usually, we don’t need all the background stuff or the history of this process – just jump right in with step 1!
Tip: For this step, just summarize your step in one, clear sentence. Example: Step 1, do this.
This is where you tell the audience what to do. Give them any tips they need, or special instructions. If they need to understand any theory to get this step right, explain it here.
Pick an example or two that you can quickly and easily show them. Think about using additional media for this – maybe a video would work best, or just a picture. Whatever you need to demonstrate this step, use it. Remember, your goal is clarity.
Let them try
Here is where the “interaction” comes in. Let them actually work on this themselves. This is also a great time to answer any questions they might have. Because they are actually trying it right after you explain it (rather than a few days later), they’ll know right away what they understand and what they don’t understand and this gives them a better shot at figuring it out, applying it, and asking relevant questions right there on the spot.
Follow steps 2-4 until you cover all of your steps. Make sure to keep your steps at 5 or under, otherwise it starts to get too overwhelming for the audience – too much to remember later.
This might take a little tweaking on your part. Maybe you typically break it down into 7 steps, so you’ll have to reorganize here to get just 5.
Finally, finish up the workshop with some closing remarks. Keep it short and focused. All you really need to do is review the why, and the major steps. If you’d like, you can take questions and then finish up with your closing remarks.
That’s it! That’s the simple formula for creating interactive workshops. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Your turn – have you run a successful interactive workshop before? Give us your tips for running a smooth and successful workshop in the comments below! I’d love to hear!
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to go down to San Diego for, what turned out to be, one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended.
It’s always fun to see the best man speech. You never quite know what they’ll come up with.
This one was exceptionally interesting. There was serenading, a change of clothes and a flash dance mob.
But it worked. And it got me thinking, when is it ok to break the rules during a speech? There’s a fine line between creativity and an awkward, uncomfortable performance. You don’t want to land on the wrong side of that.
In this post, we’ll look at some things that you need to understand before you try to get too creative and “speak outside the box.”
Understand the goal
This is crucial. I’ve talked about goals before, but it really does apply to just about anything you do as a speaker. If you don’t know what you want out of the experience, or what the audience should take from the experience, you won’t know what to do.
Start with your goal. Your purpose. Then work your way backwards. This is much better than starting out with, say, a joke or a funny story and trying to squish it into a speech that it doesn’t belong in.
For example, if your goal is to shock the audience, you can search for a shocking joke to include. It makes sense. It’s what you’re going for. But, you wouldn’t want to start building a speech from a shocking joke and then try to fit it in to the bigger picture if your ultimate goal is to bond with the audience. It won’t work.
When you are beyond comfortable with your topic, situation AND skill set
If you’re feeling unsure about your ability to speak on the topic or if you’re unsure about your skills as a speaker, don’t risk stepping outside the box. I’m all about pushing limits and taking on challenges, but this isn’t something you want to risk because, more often than not, it’ll end up feeling really icky for the audience.
Trying to make risky jokes or do something outrageous won’t work if you are feeling uncomfortable. The audience will sense it. And they’ll feel that uneasiness themselves. That’s when things get awkward.
But, if you know that you’re comfortable and that putting yourself out there and telling outrageous stories or jokes won’t bother you, then go for it. If you’re comfortable, the audience will feel comfy too.
When you aren’t sacrificing clarity
Clarity is always important. If your message becomes fuzzy by adding in something risky or off the wall, it’s better to leave it out.
If the audience is left feeling like… um… where did that come from? They’re not going to focus on the rest of your message. (Tweet it. You know you love it 🙂
Unless your sole purpose is to entertain (which it rarely is), then you still have a message to deliver. You still have a goal. Don’t distract from it.
But… if your joke or story supports your goal, and makes it easier for your audience to remember and understand it, then go for it! Entertaining is fine (and appreciated), as long as it doesn’t become distracting.
In the comments below, let me know about a time that you broke the rules and it felt really good! Or, let me know when you saw another speaker break the rules and how that worked.
You have an upcoming keynote, but every time you sit down to plan it out, you start to feel a little knot in your tummy – as if your body is screaming PLEASE DON’T!
It’s ok to feel a little nervous (I still do, even though I’ve done the public speaking thing for years now), but you don’t want that to stand in your way of absolutely rocking the stage. And it doesn’t have to.
I’ve helped a ton of people take the stage, and over the years, I’ve noticed that there are a few simple steps that can make a huge difference in the final product.
So don’t worry, you’ve got this! Just follow along and you’ll be rocking it in no time.
Step 1: Set a goal
Clarity is key. If you’re not quite sure what you want your audience to know, do or believe once they’re done listening to you, you’ll constantly question the material you’re presenting and whether your message is working. (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Basically, this is a recipe for disaster. We want to clear out that fuzzy feeling by setting a goal for ourselves.
I like to do this by writing out a purpose statement. What is it that you want the audience to know, do or believe by the time you’re done? Force yourself to write it out in one, clear sentence.
Now you know exactly what needs to happen during this speech and this should start to ease some of that anxiety.
Step 2: Visualize your perfect speech
I don’t typically get into all of the breathing and visualization techniques, it just isn’t my thing (because I focus more on the content), but I know that the fastest way to feel better about taking the stage is to be really clear on what that experience is going to look and feel like.
I used to have my students stand in the front of the room for a few minutes a day or two before they presented their first speech. They were often surprised that it felt so different from that side of the room!
But how much better is it to discover that awkward, uncomfortable feeling before you actually try to deliver a speech in front of a crowd?
If you have the opportunity to check out the venue, go ahead and do it. And stand on stage. See what it looks like, what it feels like and acknowledge any uneasy feelings that pop up.
If you can’t get there, or can’t get on stage, try your best to imagine yourself in the situation. Bonus points if you can imagine yourself telling your most inspirational story, or your opener. The clearer your visuals, the better you’ll be on speech day.
Step 3: Connect with your audience
It’s easier to talk to people you know than people you don’t. But, you won’t always speak to an audience full of friends.
If you find yourself in a place where you’re speaking to a room full of strangers, don’t worry! You can make friends real quick!
If you have a chance, mingle with the audience before you go live. Introduce yourself, say hi, chat about the weather, the conference, whatever.
If that isn’t a possibility, that’s ok. You can still start the speech off casually by making direct contact and smiling at two or three people in the audience before you start. Or, brainstorm a lead in question to start the speech in a very conversational way so they feel like they know you and you feel like you know them.
Remember that the best keynotes are those that both deliver value and also connect with the audience. If you set a goal, visualize success and connect with your audience, you’re bound to deliver an amazing presentation.
Your turn – in the comments below, let me know if you have any tips to help you deliver a great speech. I’d love to hear!
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Conversations are fun! Lectures? Not so much (unless you’re a nerd like me).
One reason why live speech is so much fun (and so valuable) is because the audience is invited to participate. It isn’t just a monologue – it’s an experience The audience is taking part, helping to create and shape the message as it goes.
This is also one reason why live speech is so scary! You spend all of this time preparing, but, who are you kidding? You don’t really know what’s going to happen once you get up there! A few unexpected situations can throw you for a loop. Add that to a case of stage fright and you immediately go into fight or flight mode, freezing on stage, (or you ramble for a bit without actually saying anything useful).
But, there is a way to avoid that! If you know me and my speech tips, you’ll know I’m big on preparation. (It’s allllll about the prep, baby!) Without it, you’re dead in the water. With it? Unstoppable!
In this post, you’ll find 5 tips on handling unexpected situations while speaking on stage so that you can keep control of the speech and make sure everyone has a positive experience and leaves your speech feeling empowered and motivated.
1. Create an example bank
You’ll likely get some questions that you aren’t expecting, or that you aren’t sure if you’ll have time to go into while speaking. Or, you might just get some questions on clarifying the ideas you already covered.
Either way, an example bank can help. I like to keep a number of examples on the bench, just in case the starting team doesn’t get the job done. These are examples that are clear and that I know well, that I can talk about with little preparation.
This way, when someone asks a question, I don’t have to search my brain for an example, it’s already there. It allows me to answer clearly and effectively, without a lot of pause time and without a lot of stumbling.
The best part? Taking a little time to prepare this bank makes your audience think that you are completely comfortable thinking on your feet, and really adds to your credibility and to their overall understanding of your material.
Anticipate questions ahead of time
If you have a workshop or keynote that you deliver regularly, you’ll start noticing that you get the same questions over and over. You can either start to incorporate those questions into your speech, or not. Either way, you’ll want to know what they are so that you have go to stories, examples and clear answers for them when they come up. But, how do you anticipate questions? If you have a lot of published content, you can start there. What are people asking you in your blog posts? In your live Q&A sessions? In your personal conversations? Start creating a question bank and have a clear, concise answer to those questions that you’re ready to share without stumbling or searching through your memory bank. You can even go a step further and link these questions to something in your example bank for a powerful answer at any time.
Have a back-up plan
Plans are great. But back-up plans are life savers! (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂
Sometimes, whatever you planned, just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. The speaker before you went long and now you have half the time. The audience isn’t cooperating and they’re not giving much back. The audience is too into it and they’re eating into your speaking time. You fell off the stage (ok, hopefully that doesn’t happen).
Whatever it is, things happen. And when you’re in a live situation, things happen all the time. Having a back-up plan will make you look as though you are thinking and speaking off the cuff, even though you had it planned all along.
How do you create a back-up plan? First, anticipate possible scenarios (a change in time is a big one, so is audience participation if your speech relies on that, and technology is always a wild card). Know what you’ll cut if you’re short. Or, what you’ll add if you’re given more time. Know what you’ll do if you have no audio or visual.
Example: If I suddenly have less time than I thought, I’ll have certain examples that I cut – never just slice right off the end. Instead, cut a little from each of your main points.
Another example: If you’re using slides, know how to explain the slides with words if the slides suddenly aren’t available, or what to skip over entirely if it isn’t possible to explain it without the slide.
Know your material beyond what you’ve written
If you’ve poured all of your knowledge into your speech, you don’t have a lot of wriggle room. You can’t really answer questions or adjust accordingly.
But, luckily for you, you probably won’t be speaking on anything that you don’t know really, really well. But, there might be some examples or case studies that you don’t know a lot about right off the top of your head. To counteract that, take the time to know some other additional details about any of these examples. Even if that info doesn’t make it to the final cut, you can respond and expand on it if that’s what your audience wants, or if you need to add some time.
Prepare phrases that you’re comfortable with to regain control
Sometimes, an audience member will try to highjack your speech – either intentionally or not. They’ll over share, or they’ll ask too many questions. Although I’m all about audience participation, if I’m managing a group of 50, 100, or even just 10 people, I want everyone to have a positive experience. And, if someone is overstepping boundaries, it can take away from what everyone else gets out of the presentation.
So, I always have a plan for managing the audience when someone, or multiple someone’s start to take over. My favorite is “oh yeah! That reminds me…” and then change the subject to my next topic. Sometimes, I’ll have a story that bridges what they’re speaking about to the topic I’m talking about. Stories always help the transition seem more natural for everyone.
Your Turn! You might have some other tips for handling unexpected situations. Let me know in the comments below – what do you do as a speaker when things start to get out of control? Or, have you seen a speaker handle unexpected situations really well? Share in the comments below![box type=”shadow”] Ready to get started on that keynote? Deliver a 100% natural and completely conversational keynote (and by that I mean, as comfy as chatting with your best bud). Join the Very Important Presenter’s Club and learn how with a free gift and continuous free trainings. You in? [/box]