Make A Connection with Your Audience Through Questions

At least four out of ten people in every Get to the Message Presentations Workshop say: “I want to ENGAGE my audience.”

“ENGAGE” may not be the right word choice as its definition includes charming, appealing, agreeable, dazzling, arresting, captivating, enchanting and bewitching. It seems like the word CONNECT makes more sense in business: A connection is a link, logical relation, something that joins, entwines, unites. “I want to CONNECT with my listeners” is a worthy goal. Now it is about finding links to connect two parts—you and the listeners.

You can establish a link to your audience with the questions you ask. What better way to connect than by asking people to share their comments and ideas? Ask questions so you learn, listen respectfully and prove you understand all points of view. To get you going, look through The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger.

Meetings are frequently held in order to make decisions. To reach agreement and buy-in, ask some of these questions during your next in-person or virtual meeting.

Agreement Questions

  1. Who else do you need to hear from in order to make a decision?
  2. What critical information is missing that will help you make a decision?
  3. What would need to be different so you can agree to this?
  4. What else would you add or change in this recommendation?

Disagreement Questions

  1. Will you share if you disagree with this and why?
  2. Will you “pretend” to oppose this and give reasons?
  3. Can you share where the logic does not make sense?
  4. What will make this fail?

Open-Ended Questions

  1. When does this decision need to be made? Today? Next week?
  2. What’s missing from your perspective?
  3. What risks/challenges/benefits do you see?
  4. Are we going to regret this in six months? One year? Five years?

Hint: When given a 20-minute meeting slot with executives, only talk for five to ten. Be ready with questions so you can find out what your listeners think. They will probably ask you questions but be prepared to ask your own as well. Your questions and answers to executives should also be focused on how they see the world.  Read this or 6 Rules for Communicating with Executives to know how to focus your questions.

5 Ways to Improve Your Virtual Meetings

Let’s face it, virtual meetings are very difficult to make interesting. Many business people who communicate mostly through phone conversations cannot even use the teleconference so at least everyone can see everyone else. What are the key skills you need to get people to actually listen to you on the other end of the phone line? Here are some strategies for responding to your listeners’ concerns.

#1 SOUND ENGAGED: Liven up your voice!

Listener concern: You sound exhausted and not at all interested in this topic. Why should I listen? I’ve got lots to do. Plus, you ramble on and on and I have no idea what you’re really talking about.

Advice: You must sound enthusiastic about your topic. You have to pause, speak in short sentences and change your voice inflection. Smile while you are talking. Tell a story that gets people laughing.

Tape one of your calls and ask yourself, “Would I want to listen to this person, or would I start multitasking?”

#2 KEEP ME ENGAGED: Keep stating transition phrases!

Listener concern: I cannot always follow your logic. Did you just change the topic from the problem to a solution? I’m lost. I’m going to answer emails. This is too frustrating.

Advice: You must use transition phrases like:

  • “Here are the 3 options to consider.”
  • “You heard the high risk of this project and here is my suggestion.”
  • “As you just heard, we must reduce our costs, and now I’ll offer suggestions so we can share the pros and cons of each for our business areas.”

#3 LET ME PARTICIPATE: Tell your listeners how long you will talk before letting them speak.

Listener concern:  What am I going to do? This is going on and on. I already know all this. I have work to do; I can’t just sit here for one hour. I do have some ideas, but it sounds like you are going to talk the whole time. Why am I on this call?

Advice: You can say, “I will set the stage for the issue we need to discuss. This will take me 10 minutes. Then we need only 15 minutes to brainstorm ideas.” You really make friends when you cut your phone meeting by 10-15 minutes. Better yet—only have 20-minute phone calls.

#4 TELL ME HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Tell your listeners what you want from them.

Listener concern: What do you want from me? This is not worth my time if you just want to talk for 40 minutes and then hang up. I’m bored. I am going to interrupt you and point out how you are wrong in your thinking.

Advice: Tell your listeners what type of participation you want. You might say:

  • “My goal is for each of you to agree to take this recommendation and implement it in your department. Today please share what resources you will need to do this.”
  • “I want to share an idea and hear why each of you think this may or may not work.”

#5 TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE ON THE VISUAL: If using PowerPoint, tell your listeners where you are on the slide.

Listener concern:  I am looking at this slide and have no idea where you are on it. Maybe I’ll just read all these sentences instead of listening to you. You are confusing me as the slide seems to have nothing to do with what you are saying.

Advice: When you use slides, you have to use phrases like:

  • “As you look in the upper right at the chart…”
  • “The key message here is that we are ahead of schedule and on budget.”

It should go without saying: Do not read all the words on the slide.

How can you change your next virtual meeting for your listeners and for yourself as well?

Improve your meetings by implementing these ideas. Better yet, stop having these kind of  “presentation-oriented” meetings.  Making Meetings More Interactive asks you to consider changing the meeting format.  Their ideas will really enable you to connect even more with your listeners.

Breathe

I feel so anxious before I talk, what can I do? Once I stand up, I forget what I planned to say.

FIRST, prepare yourself before you speak.

One time I was scuba diving in very big waves. When I jumped off the boat under the water, I heard a loud swishing sound in my ears. I started to panic thinking the regulator was broken—but then I realized that sound was myself, hyperventilating. I had not paid attention that I was hyperventilating before jumping in the water. It took me at least 15 minutes under the water to calm down. I promised myself that the next time I went scuba diving, I would be sure I was calm before I jumped in the water.

Don’t do like I did and jump in the water before you are calm and relaxed. Instead, prepare yourself to speak with a breathing technique you find useful. Practice this type of breathing as you await your turn to talk. Do your breathing technique when you are walking to a meeting. You don’t have to be sitting in a quiet place. Think you can find a better relaxation technique than breathing? Listen to Dr. Andrew Weil: “The single most effective relaxation technique I know is conscious regulation of breath.”

SECOND, practice diaphragm breathing:

  • If alone, put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach.
  • Inhale through your nose for a couple of seconds. You don’t have to make noise. Feel your stomach expand with your hand.
  • Exhale through your mouth. Feel your stomach go in. (If alone purse your lips a bit like sipping on a straw.)

THIRD, practice inhale and exhale for a certain number of counts.

One way to calm down is to count your breaths. Sit down in a quiet place and close your eyes. Or practice when sitting with your eyes open in a meeting. Inhale through your nose, count until your lungs are full but not uncomfortably so. Then, exhale through your nose and count, trying to make the inhalation and exhalation the same. It helps a little to control the exhalation by constricting the muscles in your throat. After several breaths, increase the count for the exhalation until ideally it is at a ratio of 1 to 2—that is, if you inhale for 4 counts, then exhale for 8. Repeat 10 times, each time allowing your body to relax on each exhalation. See this video for an example.

How about you find a breathing meditation of 10 minutes and listen twice a day? Can you find one yourself? See below.

  1. Article – Breathing Basics: The How And The Why
  2. Article – 3 Reasons Everyone Should Try Alternate Nostril Breathing   MY FAVORITE!!!
  3. Apps – Best Deep Breathing Apps (4 to choose from)

The Best Investment You Can Make

Take a Chance and Change 3 Communication Skills

Here’s part of Warren Buffet’s answer to Michael Hood’s question. He asked: “What is one tip you’d give 21-year-olds just graduating from school?”

“Invest in yourself. The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now at least is to hone your communication skills–both written and verbal.”  Here is Warren Buffet’s whole answer.

This is not just good advice for younger people! Everyone can benefit from better communication skills. Here are my 3 Communication Best Practice 2019 changes for you. You can use these skills every day, whether making a formal presentation at a meeting, or even informally, outside of a work-related environment.

  1. Get to the point—and end there. (Content Change)
    I never send out any communication without trying to make it more concise and better organized.
    CHANGE: Try to cut every email you send by 1/3. Plan to speak 5-10 minutes less for every presentation you plan. Cut words and images from every visual you create (PowerPoint, Viseo, Prezi, executive summary, storyboard).
  2. Organize your messages and state them clearly. (Content Change)
    I set a context and name the topic area (headline) before I get into the details.
    CHANGE: Use headlines as you speak. Help your listener follow you. Take a chance and use these types of phrases: “Here’s the problem…” “The least costly solution is…” “There are 3 options to consider…” “Let me start with the 3 key messages I want you to remember…” In emails, consider putting your categories in bold letters such as Issue, Problems, Best Solution, Next Steps.
  3. Create a positive atmosphere with your voice tone, eye contact and focused words. (Engagement Skills)
    I find ways to be positive in my interactions with others, adding a positive feeling into the conversation. I project the energy I would like from others.
    CHANGE: Smile when appropriate and speak with enthusiasm. Take a chance and put more excitement, enthusiasm and curiosity into your voice and communications.
    Think about how you feel when someone sounds happy and excited about a topic, especially on the phone. Here’s some interesting research: “The More You Energize Your Coworkers, the Better Everyone Performs.”

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Several Key Takeaways From This Research

  1. The good news is that you can do something! Focus on relational energy—the energy we get and give in our daily interactions. Every action and word, no matter how small, matters in boosting productivity and performance.
  2. In your written communications, write positive comments and words that make the reader smile.
  3. Sound excited and interested when you speak to someone. When my husband was in the middle of a long 6-month crisis at work, he always sounded upbeat and happy to hear from me when I called him.

You have an opportunity to make these changes. Just try them for one week and notice the difference. 

How Will Argentine Tango Skills Make You a Better Presenter?

In my Get to the Message Workshop, we experiment using Argentine Tango skills to become more connected and engaged with the audience.

Upright Posture Is Crucial to Look Confident

Just by a person’s stance, each audience member makes a decision on that presenter’s level of confidence. People are told to stand up straight all the time, but there are conflicting views on how to do it. Tango provides clear guidelines on how to stand up straight.

  • Roll your shoulders back so your scapula drops.
  • Bring your ribs together to protect your back.
  • Stand on your big toe mounds and your heel. Why? Standing on your big toe mounds makes you use your inner muscles. Your heel makes you use your hamstrings.
  • Project your sternum forward and upwards all the while keeping your ribs together. This makes you raise your head.

Intentional Walking Is Crucial to Appear in Charge

A presenter must walk and look purposeful, not anxious and unengaged.  Tango shows you how to walk.

  • First, maintain your posture.
  • Second, use your standing leg to move, not your free leg. Walking forward with your weight on your left leg, push the left foot into the floor before moving instead of reaching your right leg forward. Your right leg will follow when you push your left foot into the floor and use your gluteus muscles to walk. Esther Gokhale describes it best. She also sells a wonderful little bean bag to put on your head and practice walking around.

Walk This Way (IHMC Presentation)

Listening Is Crucial to Connect With Your Audience

Certainly a presenter has something to say and has planned very well. But for most executive presentations, success occurs when the presenter can change directions depending on the audience’s reactions to the topic.

How do really good tango dancers look so amazing and so connected? Here’s a secret: one person leads, but then WAITS and LISTENS to feel what the follower does with that lead. If the follower intentionally or unintentionally goes in another direction or does a different type of step than the leader planned, the leader follows the follower. I love how a very seasoned tango leader will go where the follower has chosen to step and improvise. In other words, a seasoned tango leader does not stop the dance and tell the follower, “I did not lead that.”

Likewise, presenters cannot tell an executive that they do not want to discuss something. The presenter follows the executive’s direction—resulting in an engaged executive. The presenter plans a “presentation/dance” but may end up doing the executive’s dance instead. Just as tango leaders adjust to the follower, presenters should adjust to their audience to keep the presentation interesting and the audience engaged.

Again and again, participants in my workshops say they want to engage their audience. But many presenters pay no attention to engagement clues from the audience. Whatever they decided to do before entering the room, they keep going in that direction with this mindset: “I planned to cover this information and I’m going to do it.” Consequently, they do not create a connection with the audience. You cannot have an engaged audience unless you let them participate.

Click here to see an Argentine Tango couple who connect and walk with such amazing ease all the while being on one leg.

Summary

Practice upright posture behaviors, walk with your glutes and let your audience guide what you say and how much you say about a topic.

Argentine Tango

How to Motivate Yourself

As you walk up to give a presentation how many of you tell yourself, “I can do this. I will be great.”  You may be thinking you have done yourself a good service to give yourself a pep talk.  It turns out that there is an “effective” way to talk to yourself and that’s not it.

“For example, in one study we found that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using ‘I’ or ‘me.”

How can you apply this in the future?

About to get up to talk, say to yourself, “You will be calm and really engage the audience. You have prepared.”

Worried about a difficult negotiation you are about to have, say to yourself, “Claudyne, you can create a win/win scenario. You know how to listen.”

Feel like your emotions are going to get the best of you, say to yourself, “You have the ability to take charge. You are going to be fine.”

The bottom line is that from the research those who used non-first person self-talk are able to be calmer when presenting and to “get control of their emotions.”

Read the article. It is short and very thought provoking.

https://hbr.org/2015/02/pronouns-matter-when-psyching-yourself-up

State a Call to Action

TorchMetrics’ surveys have shown that more than 50% of presenters do not absolutely suggest next steps or provide a call to action.

The ramifications of this are profound.

Audiences feel lost and may think, “So what am I sitting here for?” They are frustrated having wasted their time and do not have a positive impression of the presenter.

The Executives do not like their time wasted. They want to move forward with suggestions and solutions. They now do not imagine this person as “executive” material.

Presenters have wasted time creating a presentation that ends in a whisper. And now they have to spend time after the meeting getting agreement on the next steps. Plus their career advancement becomes limited as they are not “seen” as getting things done.

Next Steps and/or a Call to Action are critical to a presentation. Always have a slide prepared that outlines the next steps to be taken. You may choose to show it either at the beginning or at the end of a presentation. In most communications you want a call to action be it a webex, email or presentation.

EXAMPLES: WHICH WOULD ENGAGE YOU?

NOT CLEAR

CLEAR & ENGAGING

Alignment Can I get alignment on this? Tomorrow I will start contacting each function to gather the information needed for this project. Please say now if this is not acceptable to you.
Marketing Piece What do you think of this marketing flyer? We have two colors of the flyer. I suggest we go with the purple as it fits our theme and is more eye-catching. Any comments or questions before we can agree on the purple?
Focus I suggest we focus on our top 10 accounts. I suggest on Friday we send a memo to the sales force telling them that for the next four weeks to only focus on their top 10 accounts. Is there any reason why you believe we should not do this?

Smile Appropriately

How much should you smile when presenting? This depends on the context of your talk.

Don’t smile: If you are presenting some medical research on cancer treatments to a group of patients with cancer, it is not appropriate to smile many times except when you have good news to tell them about a particular treatment.

Smile: If you are presenting the latest fantastic results about a new project and its benefits, then smile to show your excitement about the exceptional results.

Smile sometimes: If you are presenting some positive results and some negative financial results, then smile when discussing the positive results. Don’t smile when explaining the reasons for the negative results.

Women: Don’t smile too much. Audiences perceive a woman smiling all the time as less confident, more unsure or herself, and not as competent as someone who does not smile all the time.

So what is an authentic smile?

  1. Start in positive manner: Find a way to say something when you start that lets you smile.“I know this is a difficult subject, but there are some positive options available. I’m going to be sharing those options and hopefully get us smiling about them.”

    “I’m happy to report that sales are up 10% due to our new product. This is some of the positive news I can report to you.”

    “You look like an audience ready to go. Ready to go to work! And ready to listen to a quick, I promise, analysis of the next steps for this project. This will only take 30 minutes, not 60.”

  2. Include emotional words in your talk. “I’m excited to be with you today.” “This next number will get you smiling.” “I’m happy to be standing in front of you with mostly good news.”
  3. Show images that make people smile. This is a technique that works with some audiences. I remember a client who had the most gorgeous picture of him ziplining down a mountain. He showed that at some meetings and then said, “Today we are going to go down a zipline as we discuss the new product. I know we’re nervous about what to do next, so let’s jump off the mountain and get going.” Everyone smiled.

Smile when making positive comments. Plan those comments into your presentation. Use images if they are appropriate.

MY ONE SECRET

Before I present I go into the restroom, look at myself in the mirror, pat my face, and tell myself, “You are going to be great. You have practiced. Go have fun. Smile.” (When no one is around).

A Purposeful Walk Changes the Presentation’s Pace

Changing the energy in the room is an excellent way to keep your audience engaged. Walking and moving around the room is one easy way to move that energy around. Not only does it keep things lively, but it energizes your body and makes you feel confident and in charge.

What are the keys to looking confident when walking?

First, you must take several steps and stop. You cannot pace back and forth.

Second, you have to plan where you will walk so that you do not stand in front of the screen and block the view of your audience.

Third, you have to know your audience and their views on walking when presenting. Walking to the back of the room really changes the energy in the room and keeps everyone awake—but this depends on the room situation and the audience’s expectations.

What walking is not: Walking is not changing your weight from foot to foot in a swaying motion. Walking is not moving forward and backward one or more steps every time you start a new sentence. Walking is not constantly pacing from one side of the room to another.

When to Walk

Change is occurring: You want to discuss a change. You discuss the problems in the past on the left side of the screen. When you start talking about the changes and benefits, you move to the right side of the screen. Practice this technique to increase the impact of your presentation.

To influence audience: Moving closer has the effect of increasing intimacy. It gives the impression that you want to get closer to your audience.

Be conscious of what you are doing.

  • Don’t do all your movements at the same time.
  • When walking, restrain your gestures.
  • When standing still, use larger gestures.

Use walking as another way to change the pace of your talk.

Eye Contact Enables Audience Engagement

Eye contact is essential when you want to look confident and credible. A business presentation should be more like a conversation than a performance. In a conversation you make eye contact.

When you seek eye contact with your audience, you become more believable and credible in Western cultures.

Here are some tips to become an effective “eye contact” presenter.

If you’re too nervous to look in the eyes: Look at the person between the eyebrows. This will give you a start in making eye contact. When you look at someone between the eyebrows, the person experiences you looking in the eyes.

Draw an imaginary triangle: Draw an imaginary inverted triangle on the other person’s face around their eyes and mouth. During the conversation, change your gaze every five to ten seconds from one point on the triangle to another.

End a sentence looking at someone: Train yourself to at least end your sentences looking at someone. Then count to three before you look away. Do not look at the screen, laptop, or your notes when you complete your sentences.

Make some words a cue to look: As you say the word “you” be sure to be looking at someone. This is a must!

Focus your conversation: As you look at one person, imagine there is no one else in the room. The person you are looking at is the most important person right now, and you are giving him or her all of your attention. Then go on to someone else in the room. Each person will feel special.

How to Practice

With people: Practice in meetings.

Alone: Make the objects in the room different people so you get used to ending a sentence looking at the chair, the clock, the screen, etc. Then make sure you complete your sentences looking at objects on both sides of the room. Many presenters tend to look at one side of the room three-fourths of the time. Train yourself not to do this. Be random as you look at people.

All the time: In daily life start looking and talking to one person at a time. Become comfortable doing this. Then when you get up to talk, you will already have the habit.