Don’t Speak to Your Audience…
Wikipedia defines a conversation as, “communication between two or more people.” A conversation flows two ways, and it should do so from the stage as well. Now, that doesn’t mean both parties must speak; it means there’s some communication between the two. This typically requires mutual attention and respect, in order to establish transference of both information, and emotion. In order for you to converse with your audience, you first need their attention. A very simple way to command your audience’s attention as soon as you take the stage is by giving them your attention first. You can do this through silence. That’s right, say nothing, do nothing. Just stand there, and look into your audience. This lets your audience know they have your attention, and that you’re expecting theirs. I’ve done this hundreds of times, and it works very well. It sometimes takes longer than is comfortable, but it does work, and you need to remain steadfast until you have everyone’s attention, not just some of them. If you begin speaking before you have your audience’s attention, you’re not conversing with them, you’re merely speaking at them, and they’re not listening. Standing in silence and looking at your audience takes moxie, no doubt about it. But it can be a very powerful way to command their attention.
Once you have their attention, you’ll need to gain their respect. You can do that by first giving them yours. Respect your audience by being properly prepared, appropriately dressed, professionally poised and effectively projected in your voice. The more prepared you are in every aspect of your presentation, the more respect you’ll have shown for your audience, and the more respect they’re likely to have for you. With your audience’s attention and respect, you’re in a great position to just chat with them as you would a close friend, and they’re in a position to do more than receive your message. They become silent participants in the conversation.
So, what’s the lesson? Command your audience’s attention, and respect, by first giving them yours, then just converse with them like you would with an old friend.