Professional Development

Tricks to earn an audience’s attention

Yamini Naidu /

There are three top tricks that all inspiring presenters use. The first is being real.

People are interested in who you are and why the subject or issue you are talking about is important to you. One of our clients from an environmental agency was presenting at a conference recently and he wanted to demonstrate that the environment had always been something he cared deeply about; he just hadn’t climbed on the bandwagon recently. So he started by sharing this story:

“When I was five my mother read The Lorax by Dr Seuss to me and it became my favourite book. Some of you might know the story of a boy who lives in a town where nothing is quite as it appears; everything is plastic, including the plants. Leaving the city to find a real tree he meets The Lorax, a grumpy but charming character who tells the boys that all the trees have been cut down. However, at the end of the story, as a symbol of hope, the boy is given a seed to plant. And that was when the seed was planted for my own passion for the environment.”

The audience immediately connected with his authenticity and drive. If you are able to share the ‘real you’ upfront, that will certainly grab your audience’s attention.

But being real will only get you so far; as a presenter you have to be relevant. What you are saying has to resonate with the audience and be meaningful in their world. The role of the presenter has shifted from simply providing information to creating relevance and meaning.

A presenter speaking on the topic of nanotechnology to a largely non-technical audience opened by asking: “Who would like to never iron again?”  Every hand went up in the audience. He responded by then saying: “I am here to show you how nanotechnology will make that possible.”

By making his topic immediately relevant to everyone in the room, he had us all hooked. As Dr Stephen Covey says in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, seek to understand before being understood. Show your audience you understand them first, by being relevant to their needs and they will be open to connecting and understanding you. Of course this needs to be done in an authentic and sincere way.

And finally, the third trick up every inspiring presenter’s sleeve is risk taking. Predictability is the death sentence of every presentation; it’s the boredom that can kill off your audience.

Mark Stevenson of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future fame says he often walks out of presentations when leaders tell him “we can be innovative if we stay within the rules”.

The walk out is a risk and shocking, but he knows in a matter of seconds people will follow him out and invite him back in. He’s making a point that innovation only happens when you are ready to break the rules. Instead of saying this as a trite statement he stages a walk-out to add gravitas to the situation and make it an unforgettable experience for people in the room. Risky, but it is a memorable stunt and it certainly makes a point.

So our Halloween challenge for all aspiring inspiring presenters is to follow these three treats: be real, be relevant and take a risk by trying something left of field or unusual. Only then will you earn the ultimate treat – your audience’s attention and respect. Of course, you can use these three tricks all year round, not just on Halloween.

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