Category “Engaging Listeners”

Eye Contact is Important for You and Your Audience

Why does everyone talk about eye contact? And does it even matter when you’re on virtual meetings and no one can see your face?

EFFECTIVE EYE CONTACT is looking at one person for three to five seconds at the beginning and end of most sentences.

Your Goal: Many presenters are so anxious and concerned with getting through their talk that they cannot stop their speech for three to five seconds. If this is you, then read about breathing here.

Other Cultures: Some cultures avoid direct eye contact because it is considered disrespectful or confrontational. Even if you feel you should not look your listeners in the eye, you should still pause—it will have some of the same effects as eye contact.

What Eye Contact Does For You As A Presenter

  • You slow down at the end of your sentence and sound confident. When you train yourself to end a sentence looking at someone, you pause longer, and this pause relaxes you and gives you time to take a breath.
  • You have time to consider what’s important to say. When you pause, you have time to edit out unnecessary details. Otherwise you may just go on and on about information that is boring and irrelevant to your audience.
  • You can calm your nerves and concentrate. Try it. When you really focus on each listener, your brain will calm down and you can stay on track.

How You Are Perceived By Your Listeners When You Make Eye Contact

Confident: They think you are confident and knowledgeable.
Respectful: They feel you are respecting them by actually talking to them and acknowledging their existence.
Trustworthy: They perceive you as trustworthy and sincere as you are willing to “look them in the eye.” They feel that they can be more honest about their opinions and feelings.

What Eye Contact Means For Your Listeners

Interaction: They have space to ask a question or make a comment, so they relax as they feel there is room for them to participate.
Time: They feel they have time to finish taking notes and/or digesting what you just said.

Convinced? Here Are Some Techniques to Practice

  1. Sit in a chair and read something. After the period at the end of each sentence, pause and tap your hand three times. This will feel contrived, but do it anyway. You want to feel the rhythm of pausing.
  2. Practice your talk and at the end of each sentence pause, tap your hand or foot, or count 1, 2, 3. Again, you will get the rhythm of pausing and having silence.
  3. Practice your presentation or just have a conversation with a partner. Have your partner raise his or her hand when you end the sentence. Then stop talking, count to three, and start again. This will help you learn to pause and leave some silence and breathing room between your sentences.
  4. Ask someone to watch you as you present and tell you if you finish your sentences looking at a listener or at the slide or your notes.
  5. Have someone watch your presentation and, for three minutes, count how many times you really pause. Ask this person, did you feel I gave you enough silence so you could break into my presentation to ask a question?

Warning: This is an exercise to retrain nonstop talking. Of course, you are not going to do this for every sentence with the same rhythm. When  you just accomplish this half the time, your audience can relax and feel more comfortable asking questions and making comments.

What About Webinars and Virtual Meetings?

You may not have another person in the room when you are talking—everyone may be online. I have been taking a webinar series and it is so frustrating. The speakers talk nonstop with no pauses. I don’t have time to finish writing down an idea. I have to interrupt the speaker to ask a question. It makes me anxious, and I’m a presenter! It would be so much better if the speaker paused and included some silence during the webinar. When a speaker does pause, he or she says non-verbally: “I’m giving you space to make a comment or ask a question, or just finish a note you are writing.”

Where are your eyes in a webinar? If your listeners can see you on the webinar, then you should be doing what you do in front of a live audience. End a sentence looking at the camera. Even if you’re not on screen, don’t end your sentences looking down or your voice will drop. Imagine people on the other end of the phone and end looking at them. Be aware, at the end of every sentence that someone out there is listening to you. Sometimes, your voice is all they have. For tips on enhancing your voice, go here. You can do these exercises in the car.

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.

12 Most Engaging Presenter Behaviors…to Keep Your Audience Awake

“I want to engage my audience,” is what over half of the presenters I coach tell me. Here’s what I tell them. First, many people in your audience are tired—probably at least a third of them just don’t get enough sleep. They’re sitting there hoping they won’t embarrass themselves by nodding off. Part of your job is to help them stay awake, to actually pay attention and consider what you are saying. Next time you practice a presentation, note how many of the following strategies you actually use. Then add a couple more. You don’t want your audience to look like this.

  1. Start by telling your audience what they will take away from your talk. What are three things worth paying attention to and remembering? One of my talks starts with: “When you leave after two hour workshop, you will know how to (1) organize a talk and save hours of time; (2) use my professionally designed slides to categorize information on your slides and keep your audience engaged; and (3) feel more confident and excited about giving a presentation.
  2. Speak less than the time allotted. When you begin, say, “I know I have 30 minutes. I will only talk for 15, and then let’s discuss what I’ve said.” Your audience will think to themselves, “OK, I can listen for 15 minutes.” Plus, they will be happy not to have to listen as long as they expected.
  3. Use silence effectively. When you are playing catch and you throw the ball to someone, you find yourself waiting—will the other player catch it, and how? You don’t throw ball after ball without looking to see if the person caught one of them. When you make a statement, it’s like playing ball—you have to wait in silence to see how people receive it. Don’t keep throwing more and more words without giving your audience the chance to catch each sentence.
  4. Pause periodically. Silence not only gives your audience a chance to digest your information—it also gives them permission to participate. When you pause, you non-verbally tell your audience that they can interrupt you. Your pause makes people feel comfortable—that you are encouraging them to jump in and speak. If you talk nonstop, you will never engage your audience.
  5. Emphasize key words. If you speak in the same voice tone throughout the entire presentation, no one knows what is really important. Make it obvious to your audience what they really need to pay attention to.
  6. Use numbers, and emphasize them. A person can pay attention better when you say, “There are three strategies to solve this situation. Number 1 is… Number 2 is… Number 3 is…” Every time you say a number, it reengages your audience’s attention and helps their brains to listen.
  7. Remind your audience of the benefits of what you just told them. I frequently say something like, “By using these professionally designed slides you will feel more confident when speaking, and you’ll be able to make eye contact with your audience because you won’t be reading the slides.”
  8. Add some emotion or humor to your talk. People can only sit and listen to someone spouting facts at them for so long. You have to engage the “child” part of your audience by using emotional words. “I’m excited today to be here to tell you some good news.” Or “The TEAM did some hard grueling work and came up with this amazing new way to visualize the product.”
  9. Tell a story that interests your audience. We all love stories—especially ones that have some emotion connected to them. Tell a story within 5 to 8 minutes of starting your talk.
  10. Say these words: “You, Your”. When starting say, “I am delighted to see all of you here.” Later on say, “As you know, we have this situation. First, you will hear some ideas and then please give your opinions about how we can change this situation.”
  11. Do something unexpected. One of my clients stopped talking in the middle of his presentation, blanked out the screen and said, “OK, you’ve heard enough of the possibilities of using this new program, let’s discuss your views so far.” The energy changed in the room. People started talking and came to some understandings before he went on. Another presenter passed out several products and asked people to talk about them.
  12. Give people “brain food”. Literally, give them food, and I don’t mean donuts. Here are some ideas: almonds, walnuts, cashews, small cups of bananas and blueberries, dark chocolate, small turkey sandwiches, yogurt (without the sugar), green tea. These foods will help them concentrate, which means they will be more engaged with you.

One last word: If you yourself aren’t engaged, then you might as well forget it. Find some way to motivate yourself to be excited about your talk—you can’t expect your audience to carry you or motivate you. You are the one in front of the group, so it’s up to you to bring the interest and curiosity into the room. You don’t have to be an over-the-top enthused presenter. By using these strategies, you can exude quiet engagement.
Which ones will you start with?
PS: You may think you do these things already, but until you record yourself and watch, or ask someone else to critique you, you may just be fooling yourself.