Engaging your audience


Understanding the brain, first

“The primitive brain and the limbic brain collectively make up the limbic system, which governs emotion. Within the limbic system, there is a structure called the amygdala, which leaders need to understand….When faced with a stimulus, the amygdala turns our emotions on. It does so instantaneously, without our having to think about it. We find ourselves responding to a threat even before we’re consciously aware of it.”

5 key Strategies

  • Establish connection before saying anything substantive. And remember that the connection is physical. Techniques to connect include asking for the audience’s attention, if only with a powerful and warm greeting, followed by silence and eye contact. The key is to make sure the audience isn’t doing something else so that they pay attention.
  • Say the most important thing first once you have their attention. The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement that will control the meaning of all that follows. Remember that frames have to precede facts.
  • Close with a recapitulation of the powerful framing statement that opened the presentation.
  • Make it easy to remember. Keep in mind how hard it is for people to listen, hear, and remember. One way is to repeat key points. I often hear from clients, “But I’ve already said this. I don’t need to say it again.” Or, “I don’t want to say it again.” Or, “If I have to say this again, I’ll throw up. I’m tired of repeating myself.” But leaders need to constantly repeat the key themes, within any given presentation, and in general as a matter of organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter if they’re bored with saying it. The audience needs to hear it, again and again. And again. As a general principle, people need to hear things three times if they are to even pay attention to it. And because any given audience member at any time may be distracted or inattentive, he or she is unlikely to hear or attend to everything that is said. So leaders need to repeat key points far more than three times to be sure that everyone has heard it at least three times. One of the burdens of leadership is to have a very high tolerance for repetition.
  • Follow the rule of threes. Have three main points. But no more than three main points; no more than three topics; no more than three examples per topic. Group thoughts in threes; words in threes; actions in threes. (See how I just used the Rule of Threes in that sentence?) Think of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address: “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”

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