Take an Audience From ‘So What?’ to ‘Now What?’ Advice From a TED Speaker Coach
It’s your responsibility to determine how to make a cohesive, relevant connection between you, your content, and the audience.
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Giving a speech poses bigger challenges than simply overcoming your shaky knees. It's hard enough to capture people's attention. Moving your audience to action with your message is yet another mountain to climb.
First, nothing is more off-putting in a speech than being inundated with technical jargon and data. Relying on industry lingo as a safety blanket can backfire. Hiding behind a litany of buzzwords is a recipe for people tuning out.
All too often, speakers are disconnected from what they really want to say. They're reluctant to speak from their authentic, emotive core, which is what attracts people to listen. No one wants to watch a puppet read a PowerPoint presentation; they want a compelling conversation that leads them to a specific end point.
Which brings me to the last and possibly worst misstep: not telling the audience what you want from them at the beginning. Forcing people to wade through random information that you'll unfold at the end wastes their time because you haven't established the link to what's in it for them. Clearly stating your call to action upfront is a far better strategy.
I recommend answering the question on everyone's mind: "Now, what do you want me to do?"
Be the Speaker You Want to Hear
As a speech giver, the onus is on you to be understood. If not, it's your responsibility to determine how to make a cohesive, relevant connection between you, your content, and the audience. Here are three ways to connect and compel in your own public speaking adventures:
1. Build personal rapport.
How you begin is as important as how you end, so find the hook that primes your audience to want to hear more. People don't want to be talked to; they itch for a personal connection -- especially Millennials.
Imagine, for example, giving a speech about promoting artificial intelligence as a way to combat breast cancer globally on a local scale. That combination of talking points and potential country culture taboos makes it a tough talk to architect.
You can build rapport by connecting your topic to their lives. Don't just overload the audience with scientific facts hoping the deluge of information will pressure action. Remember: The topic affects them, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, and their daughters, and there aren't enough doctors or resources to fight it. This makes the topic suddenly very personal and real.
After arriving at your intended end point, having stated your CTA, audience members will likely be saying to themselves, "Oh, crap -- I have to do something. I have breasts (if a woman), and so do many women in my life."
2. Tell them what you want them to do first, not last.
You have 30 seconds to convince people that what you're saying is worth their time. When one of my clients wanted to start off his keynote company leadership team meeting with "Hi. Glad you are here. What do you want from this meeting?" I had to stop him.
He wasn't focused on inspiring people to get involved in what he wanted and expected from them. I often interrupt my clients with "What do you want the audience to do?" Almost always, they quickly answer with an action, and boom -- we can start formulating the speech.
Start with the end in mind, and I guarantee they'll be hooked.
3. Don't shy away from controversy.
It's not only acceptable for leaders to have opinions, but it's also requisite in a speech, where your intention is to persuade others to agree with yours. Don't be provocative just to add a dash of controversy, but do take a stance to clarify your beliefs and next steps.
Like 74 percent of Americans, another client of mine was terrified of overexposing herself and her truth during her TEDx Talk. Her breakthrough came when she allowed herself to be vulnerable and proclaim her own opinions through curated stories that illuminated her CTA. She didn't need to jump around on stage to have the audience hear her. Her power came from the quiet sharing of her experience, which resonated with the audience. You could hear a pin drop.
You have to pivot between imparting facts and personally connecting by saying, "These are my thoughts, and here's why."
Moments of truth occur when a frank, self-aware speaker makes even the toughest crowd want to tune in.