Baseball hall of famer “Wee Willie” Keeler was one of the top hitters of his day. Surprisingly, he was also one smallest players ever to play in the major leagues. When a reporter asked Willie how he could, at his size, consistently post the high batting averages that he did, Willie answered, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ’em where they ain’t.”
For baseball, this simple but sage advice is as true today as it was when Willie first said it more than 100 years ago. When it comes to speaking, however, you should be thinking, “Keep your eye on your audience and meet ’em where they are.”
When you speak to an audience, they may not be where you want them to be in terms of being engaged. Let’s take the often-dreaded after-lunch presentation as an example.
You’ve been there. You get back to your seat, and while you’re waiting for the speaker to start their presentation, your energy begins to wane. Then the speaker bounds on stage, knowing that the crowd will be somewhat lethargic, and exclaims, “Hey, everyone. I know it’s right after lunch, and everyone is mellow. Well, let’s get some energy in this room!” Then the speaker says the words that just about every introvert — and many others — dread, “Stand up and stretch. Great! Now let your arms hang at your side and shake them out!”
In situations such as these, the odds are that you weren’t engaged, and for a very simple reason. The speaker wanted you to match their energy level instead of them matching yours! An all-too-common mistake.
Why is this so common? Think about it. Speakers understand that it is often easier to connect with an audience if they have enthusiasm. So, it makes sense that they want their audiences to have some life. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Well, it makes sense only if the speakers are focused on themselves. But as you know, the focus should be on the audience.
So, if your audience has a bit lifeless, how do you connect at the same level? It’s relatively simple but not necessarily easy.
First, always be prepared for a low-energy group. This way, you’re not caught off guard when you find yourself in that situation.
Next, meet them where they are. Instead of bursting onto the stage, walk a bit slower. Instead of speaking quickly, slow your pace. Use smaller gestures. Making these small changes provides you with the opportunity to connect with your audience, and once you do, the magic happens.
Once your audience is engaged, you can begin to ramp up your energy level. Your audience’s energy will rise right along with you, leading them to where they need to be to best receive your message and their takeaway.
Many speakers believe that speaking after lunch is a death knell, and it can be, but only if you let it. Over the years, I’ve talked with speakers who, once assigned this time, decide not to prepare as they usually would. They believe that it’s a lost cause, and nothing they could do would make a difference. With this mindset, their self-fulfilling prophecy is all but carved in stone.
You, however, can use this time slot to demonstrate your presentation expertise. Professional meeting planners and most others who work with speakers understand that directly after lunch is not a highly-desired slot. So, what if, when you get that spot, you could knock it out of the park? What would that do for you in terms of reputation, referrals, and more speaking gigs?
Whether you’re speaking directly after lunch, first thing in the morning, or at the end of a long day, do all you can to engage your audience and serve them well.
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