Here are four simple yet powerful techniques to make your presentations enjoyable for audiences. They work for informative speeches, motivational speaking, and persuading listeners. Equally important, they'll help you shine in your audience's eyes:
1. Make eye contact. Simply put, no behavior is as fundamental to persuasion as looking at the person you’re talking to. When was the last time you trusted somebody who wouldn’t look you in the eye?
So actively look at and relate to your audience when you speak. (When I say actively, I mean let your gaze linger for a half-a-second to a second. Don’t “flick” your eyes at your listeners.) They’ll like you more. They’ll decide that you’re basically honest. Most important, they’ll be more willing to be influenced by you.
Avoid their gaze just because you’re nervous—or weakest of excuses, because you’re busy reading your manuscript out loud—and you’ll have virtually no chance of changing their thinking or behavior for the better.
2. Enjoy yourself. Now there’s a novel concept! Our culture has somehow invested public speaking with an aura of inconvenience, horror, and even torture—as if the entire experience belongs in an Edgar Allan Poe story.
But think about your own experiences as an audience member. Are you comfortable listening to a speaker who is clearly embarrassed or fearful?
A speaker who instead presents with verve broadcasts a completely different message. Audiences instinctively feel that this is a person who has something valuable to say. It must be good stuff, they think—look at how much he or she is enjoying talking about it! Pretty soon, we as the speaker are enjoying ourselves as well.
3. Smile. As public speakers we don’t smile enough, period. Smiling is another prerequisite to establishing trust with audiences (though it’s not as critical as eye contact). At the very least, it’s visual evidence of the speaker’s enjoyment I just mentioned in the last paragraph.
In speaking situations where you feel a smile is inappropriate, take one of two alternate paths: (a) “open” your countenance by assuming a pleasant expression; or (b) raise your cheekbones.
To explain what I mean by that last point, look at the famous painting American Gothic. That’s the one of the grim-faced farmer and his wife, complete with pitchfork. Now compare it to the Mona Lisa. There’s a lady with some raised cheekbones . . . and look how successful she’s been.
4. Energize your voice.