Engaging Your Audience¶
Guest post by Prasanjit Singh
“Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well, I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.”
That was Ric Elias talking about his survival at the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’! Didn’t that paint a picture in your mind? Visual depiction of discussed matters during a presentation, meeting, strategic session, brainstorm, and training is always engaging. Some of you might be already wondering, when it comes to a technical pitch or a serious discussion with a customer, say, about optimizing cloud costs, how do we make that engaging? Hold that thought, I will come to this in a while. The point I want to make here that capturing the audience’s attention is a very important aspect of any pitch. The more we engage the audience, the more effective the outcome will be.
Now, how do we engage the audience? We can chart the course of the conversation and plan on making it engaging!
“A talk is a voyage. It must be charted. The speaker who starts nowhere usually gets there.” ― Dale Carnegie.
Here are a few of the ways, some of them from time-honored wisdom, others from personal experience and science!
On your marks!¶
An effective start is important for your pitch to go all the way into your audience’s imagination. Engagement begins right from the first word you and one of the surest ways are by the visual story-telling approach, talking about an anecdote that relates to the theme or something that forces the mind of the audience to draw pictures!
Another way is to start with questions or statistics followed by a couple of questions that compel the listener to think, appreciate the problem and then start with discussing the answers. This technique is also called the question and hammer technique. Asking questions also helps set the expectations. It helps in digging into the ‘why’ of problems that our pitch promises to solve. And that brings us to another technique going back to 2400 years! - the Aristotelian triptych.
A triptych painting is an image with three parts. Aristotelian triptych is a framework to weave a speech. Simply put, this translates to -
Telling the audience what you are going to tell them.
Talking about it.
Summarizing all that was said.
This is an effective and time-tested technique to stay within boundaries, speak to the point and maintain unwavering engagement
The Rule of Three¶
Those of you who read Julius Caesar at high school might recognize Mark Anthony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” Oh Wow! wasn’t that engaging!
For some reason, using three words, points, ideas or examples is more engaging and memorable than having a long list of points. When presenting technical information. It is always better to talk about not more than three points or ideas at a time. More of these might just bounce over audiences’ heads!
Information presented in triads sticks to our heads better than other clusters of points.
Hearing the Unsaid¶
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” ― Peter Drucker.
When making your technical pitches it is important to deeply listen at the same time. It is important to monitor the audience’s reaction, taking cues from them, and adjusting the course of your talk. Doing this ensures the engagement is sustained. It is said, communication is like a game of tennis, you serve and you anticipate and plan the next hit accordingly. One cannot just have a script to the ‘t’. Rather, one should be ready to use each opportunity to the fullest to win the trust of the audience.
Illustrations & Gamification¶
Most of us who belong to the Cloud Industry know of the famous “Pizza-as-a-Service ” analogy for understanding cloud service models.
Making engaging tech talks needs visuals and analogies. They are useful to represent ideas. Whiteboarding and thinking of good analogies make difficult ideas simple and engaging. In addition to analogies and whiteboarding, when presenting to groups, it also helps engage and interact with the audience using gamification, where you simply throw a puzzle or conduct a game modeled around your presentation.
“Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.” ― Kurt Vonnegut
Technical presentations tend to sound boring at times!. It always helps to sprinkle humor to keep the engagement going and unfailingly make a connection with the audience.
A study of sustained attention across the lifespan in a sample of 10,000 reveals human adults have a maximum attention span of around 20 minutes. This means you would want to make your presentations concise and preferably around that mark! And if you are going beyond that 20-minute mark engage in Q&As instead of your monologue!
Another brilliant example of Q&A interactions is from an article from Chip Heath, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business that says, “To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from ‘What information do I need to convey?’ to ‘What questions do I want my audience to ask?’”
The answer to that guides an engaging pitch and conversation.
The Finishing Line¶
“Stay hungry, stay foolish!”. Aren’t all of us a fan of that one? What is going to be yours?
In my opinion, a good finish triggers the desired action and stays with the listener as a reminder of what was spoken.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla, Felipe Furtado on Unsplash