Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proven Techniques to Engage an Audience

I was recently asked to join a panel of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s preeminent media trainers. There was no need to stress over a topic, as my speaking assignment came with the invitation. My job on the “Being a Master Messenger” panel was to expound upon proven techniques for “Creating a Rapport with Your Audience” – or as I quickly renamed the title, “Connecting with Your Audience.” Sorry, but “connecting” is just so much gutsier than “rapport.”

Rarely have I done so much work for so little air time yet been so satisfied with time spent. Having only five minutes (which were overseen by a no-nonsense moderator) got my attention and challenged me to start my research immediately.

I began by listing the techniques I would address and then identified 10 speakers who had used one or more of them successfully. Once that was settled, I could begin researching videos and work on editing clips with Woody Griffin, a young and highly talented video editor at Beyond Pix Studios – the hosting company.

So my search for speakers who “connect” exceptionally well began. I had watched and been impressed with Michelle Obama’s highly successful 2012 Democratic NationalConvention speech. From her dramatic entrance in a multi-colored designer gown to lights, music, smile and endearing swagger, she immediately connected with the delegates (and no doubt a greater audience beyond the convention floor). Her speech writer did a masterful job of giving her dialogue using self-deprecating humor, a tool which helped her successfully connect with the audience while telling personal stories to humanize her husband. She succeeded in getting the audience to laugh and delivered a better understanding of the guy she calls Baa-rack. 

Next I settled on Steve Jobs, as I had just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography. In 2005 Steve Jobs was asked to give a graduation speech at Stanford University. But the back story is that Steve struggled with what to say and how to put together the speech. He asked for help in writing it; when none came and the day grew closer, he had no choice but to write it himself.

Jobs decided to develop the themes he wanted the graduates to take away by telling stories from his life and in doing so chose a time honored way of “connecting” with an audience. As long as a speaker doesn’t preach, we – old and young alike – love hearing a good story. His extremely personal speech turned out to be one of Jobs’s best and also one of the shortest he ever delivered.

Connecting with a judge and jury requires extraordinary delivery skills. The brilliant litigator David Boies is probably the best there is in a courtroom today. In a CNN Money interview, he discusses the secrets to his success in engaging an audience. Boies believes it is his “naturalness”—that he is not artificial, which enables him to connect with an audience. But in the final analysis he attributes his communication skills to preparation: the huge amount of often tedious work and reading that goes into preparing for a trial.  Quite amazing considering that Boies is dyslexic! Since authenticity is a must for successful speaking, I realized that David Boies needed to be included. The “interview” video was a departure; but I thought it worked extremely well, so Boies became my third choice.

Oprah Winfrey’s 2013 speech to Harvard graduates was my final selection. She used the technique of giving advice from her own painful personal experience to connect with the graduates. The speech was brilliant and funny; but with my commentary and the three video clips already selected, I was over my allotted 5 minutes. Unfortunately her video clip ended up on the BeyondPix cutting room floor. For anyone interested in hearing a great speech that uses a variety of techniques to connect with an audience, I recommend you look up this one on YouTube. Oprah Winfrey is a master communicator!

Next time you agree to give a speech, decide what you want to say and then select the speaking techniques to help you inspire, motivate and connect with your audience. And if you have used a speaking technique that has worked particularly well in a speech, I would love to hear about it. 

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