If only your audience would totally focus on you and be oblivious to the outside world during your speech or presentation. And be completely satisfied when it’s over.
That’s exactly how I would describe cats with catnip.
Handling your audience, though, can be more difficult, like, say, herding cats. Try these tactics to pack an irresistible punch in your next presentation or talk:
1. Include the improbable. Think about all the presentations and speeches you’ve endured. Which surprised you? When speakers can unpack a surprise—especially an improbable reality, great contrast, or unlikely pairing or eventuality—the audience will be more likely to pay attention.
2. Tell a story about yourself. If you can share your embarrassments, hesitations, mistakes, missed opportunities, and “aha!” moments, your audience members will feel like they’ve gotten to know you better. Audiences love connecting with you in this way.
3. Show an invisible visual. Forget the slides. Show your audience members a picture they can see in their minds. Show them something you describe so vividly that it sticks with them. They’ll remember your talk long after the applause, and enjoy it more while it’s happening.
4. Toss your script. Sorry speechwriters, but there’s little that can be more electric to an audience than a speaker who puts her script aside. This takes planning, but when you do it right, it’s a crowd pleaser.
5. Give your speech dimensions. Props can bring abstract ideas into reality, and if you’re brave enough to wield an unusual prop—one that makes the audience suddenly think about what it would be like to hold such a thing—so much the better. Think about neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor who held a human brain while she talked about her stroke, or Bill Gates who opened a jar of mosquitoes during a talk about malaria. Help us think and see in three dimensions.
6. Be quiet. Too many speakers fill up all the time they’re allotted. The speaker who can let me hear the spaces between the sounds she’s making, and who uses silence to her advantage has my full attention.
7. Join the audience. Get out from behind that lectern and walk toward and into the audience. Your presence in and with the audience makes the speech come alive, more like a real conversation than a talking-to.
There’s one more trick to using any of these tactics: Use them with discretion. Remember, catnip is strong, so just a little will do.