It can be difficult to keep your audience engaged during business presentations. How do comedians keep their audiences engaged? Some of us are naturally funny. Others think that being funny is a gift from birth that only the chosen few are blessed with, and that the rest of us should stay far, far away from trying to make people laugh. The fact is, being funny is a skill like anything else, like driving a car, learning a new language, or learning presentation techniques.
Comedians spend years crafting and honing their content and delivery, making them one of the few public speakers that clock up Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours that he says make a master.
Performers learn a lot the hard way. there’s just no other way to do it. You can practice, practice, and practice until the cows come home but at the end of the day you have to get up in front of a real audience to test it out.
Here are a few interesting presentation techniques from the world of comedy to help speakers in the business world master the art of keeping audiences engaged.
Rock It From The Start
Everyone knows that getting off to a good start sets the tone for the rest of your journey. When you’re practicing your speech or presentation, the first 30 seconds will make or break you.
Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer does this effectively in her TEDTalk “Why you don’t get what you want…” If you don’t engage people and give them a reason to listen in the first 30 seconds, you’ll have a pretty tough time getting them back.
A killer start to your presentation will set the tone for the rest of your talk and keep your audience engaged. So practice this, hone it, and know it until you can do it in your sleep.
Know Your Timing
When you’re practicing, breakdown the sections of your content.
- First 30 seconds
- Numbers of key areas
- Wrap up
Time yourself so you know how long each takes and how much time the whole presentation will be and when in doubt, keep it short. you will keep your audience engaged, and they will thank you for it.
Don’t Wait To Work The Room – keep you audience engaged from the get go!
Comedians are clever at working the room. They ‘cast’ someone in the audience so they have instant familiarity with the room. Introduce yourself to people as they come into the room; don’t wait to find common ground with your audience until you start your talk.
Break the ice with them from the outset, greet them as they come in, have a bit of banter with them. You’ll automatically have back story with them when you start your presentation.
Warm Up First
All performers warm up and do something to get them in the ‘zone’ as TEDTalk presenter Julien Treasure talks about here. Stretch your arms up over your head before you step onto the stage, take some deep breaths, loosen up your muscles or do some articulation exercises. Whatever you do, do something. This will help calm any nerves and also get your body and mind focused on the task at hand.
Whenever you get the chance to present or speak in front of an audience, always film or video yourself. Always. It’s so easy now to do it now with phones and tablets. Get a friend or someone you know will be there to video you so you can watch it back and see exactly what you’re doing and sounding like. Performers and comedians love this because it gives them instant feedback on everything they’re doing and how they are keeping audiences engaged.
No one feels comfortable around people who seem like they’re perfect all the time. We connect with people we trust, who feel familiar to us. Really funny material comes from comedians who know it’s not necessarily about making people laugh; it’s about making people think, it’s about showing them that you know what it’s like to be human. The audience finds something in you that resonates with them. Comedian and writer Ricky Gervais talks brilliantly about this here.
As a public speaker, take heed of some of these techniques from comedians and see if they help in your performance. Comedians face the toughest audiences in the world so they know what they’re talking about.
Remember, good preparation and practice will pay off in dividends when it comes to getting up in front of an audience and delivering the goods.
Great communicating is learned; no one is born a great speaker.
Remember that you’re a human being in a room full of human beings and every audience loves to see people succeed.
They want you to be great! It makes their job of listening so much easier.
Contact us for details on how we can help you to engage your audiences and deliver memorable presentations
t – +353 1 9696056
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Through out the years, we have supported many individuals across the corporate and private sector from all over Europe. We’ve trained C-Suite Personnel, Business Executives, Sales Professionals, Scientist, Engineers, Legal and Medical Professionals, and one topic that comes up over and over again is ‘Executive Presence’ and how to achieve it.
Let me share with you an insight I had some time ago, which might help you to understand and build on your own Presence
I try to go for run most days and one of the routes I have enjoyed most over the years, is the lovely Phoenix Park here in Dublin. One day, along my route, I came face to face with a large herd of deer. They were all standing very still, regarding my presence with quiet curiosity.
What struck me most at the time, was their immense stillness. The deer possessed such calmness and a phenomenal sense of ease and yet, they were also completely alert, ready to flee at any sign of danger.
I stood looking at them for what seemed like an age, transfixed and drawn by something – their amazing ‘Presence’
An audience is always connected to a speaker who communicates in a relaxed and calm way, but just like a wild deer, a speaker always needs be alert to the audience. So if building your executive presence is something on your mind, try this simple technique – stop moving, stay grounded and still!
The Art of Stillness Builds Executive Presence
Moving around may help you to calm nerves or to feel at ease but it can be very distracting for your audience. Instead, try to find an ease within yourself to simply stand still and be present. By just following this technique, not only will you build your presence in front of your audience, you will also connect in a stronger and more authentic way
“Stillness is a simple, yet powerful technique to build presence”
Remember this; as a speaker, you have the ability to instil any emotion in your audience.
If you are agitated or stressed then your audience will also be agitated and stressed. If you are at ease and physically relaxed and grounded, then your listeners will also be at ease and guess what…they will also be more open to listening, and building that all important connection with you. You will have achieved ‘presence’!
Sometimes we just need to demystify things and go back to basics when it comes to communication! So next time you are rehearsing your presentation, try this technique to achieve Executive Presence.
Mark Twain once said ‘There are two kinds of speakers in the world: Those who get nervous and those who are liars..’ And he wouldn’t be far off. Everyone gets a dose of presentation nerves, some just hide it better than others! Even the greatest orator in history Marcus Tullius Cicero once ran from the forum where he was set to speak because he was terrified with nerves.
TED coaches, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, even presidents get nervous. But the trick is to look and sound cool, calm, and collected even when you’re not feeling the love.
Cicero knew that you have to “fake it ‘till you make it”, but it’s actually more than that; it’s fake it until you become it. Unless you’re soaked in sweat and physically unable to speak, audiences don’t know what you don’t tell them.
The ancient Romans and Greeks invented this kind of thinking; they called the art of oratory actio as in ‘acting’. A speaker is an actor, and the best actors are the ones who are most truthful, convincing, and authentic on stage.
These ancient orators also knew about nerves and that they can be an important part of pumping up your energy before you go on, and, if managed properly, you can channel that energy to give your performance passion, charisma, and memorability.
People won’t be able to take their eyes off you and they may not even know why. Here’s Cicero’s 5 Cannons and how they can help you knock it out of the park even when you’re feeling like you can’t even suit up to bat.
The 5 Canons
Cicero, that great orator, came up with five aspects of giving a great speech or ‘Canons’. There’s no substitute to combat presentation nerves than being well prepared and he was the king of relentless preparation and practice, as he was taught by his Greek tutors.
Cicero’s canons are thus:
Invention, Style, Memory, Arrangement, Delivery.
1. Invention: The Hook
This is the nugget of what you want to say. It’s the distilled essence of what your speech or presentation is all about and why people should listen.
It’s usually around 40 words or less and about 12 seconds, roughly the length of a human breath, and it is one sentence. But that’s it!
Brevity is beauty. Keep it simple and keep it short and audiences will love you for it.
2. Arrangement: Road Map The Journey Of A Presentation
Before you open PowerPoint, sit down and map out your story. Every speech or presentation is a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, and once you’ve got that clear, it’s time to open PowerPoint and see what you need to support and illustrate your message that will add colour, texture, and memorability.
Story first, PowerPoint after. This will ensure you are clear in your journey and will help you avoid using PowerPoint as a report or crutch.
3. Style: Channel Your Inner Obama
Everybody has their own style and in order to develop that style, watch as many people as you can give presentations and speeches. What are they doing well? Using pace, pause, pitch, volume?
Observe what they’re doing that works and, equally importantly, what doesn’t. Steal from the best and leave the rest. As you practice and video yourself, you’ll begin to discover and develop your own style.
No two speakers are the same so don’t worry about being like someone else. Remember, it’s about being the best YOU, not becoming someone else.
Great sources are Youtube, TEDtalks, and people at your own company or place of work.
4. Memory: Build Your Palace! It Helps Reduce Presentation Nerves
Presentation nerves are often brought on by that fear of forgetting. Mnemonics is the learning of techniques to aid in human memory. A mnemonic device could be an acronym or image that helps you to associate information and recall it more efficiently.
The Roman orators often used the image of a palace or great house with many rooms where they attributed sections of their speeches to different rooms in order to remember the information better.
5. Delivery: Bring It On, Superman
After you do your warm up (and everybody does something), the last thing you do is stand with your feet wide apart and hands on hips a la Superman/Wonder Woman and smile (master of all your survey)
It will help banish those presentation nerves and give you a sense of expansion, positivity, and being grounded.
Then, picture your audience and send out a thought of generosity, ‘I love you guys!’ and make it all about them, not you.
So take it from the guys who started it all and use the five canons and take heed of Cicero;
‘Whatever you do, do it with all your might.’
It’s all there for the taking so practice, practice, practice and give it your best shot. The worst thing that can happen is you try and fail, so try and fail again, and then try again.
As Samuel Beckett said;
‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
“ConfidentSpeak is a Voice and Communications consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We have worked with leading Irish and international companies and executives. Contact us for details on our range of corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.”
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Have you ever sat there before a presentation and felt so nervous that your stomach is like a washing machine, and you wish the fire alarm would go off so you don’t have to open your mouth? Well you are not alone. Presentation nerves affect almost everyone who has ever stood up to give a speech […]
Often we hear about a new school of thought from the world of presentation skills or public speaking. Experts in the art of persuasion seem to regularly unearth new and innovative ways of doing things that we’ve never heard of before. However these ‘new’ ways of thinking can often take the core of their teaching from innovators that have come before. Long before!
Throughout history speakers have employed a variety of basic skills when addressing the structure and effectiveness of their communications. Great orators like Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Hitler. They all had similar characteristics and structures when crafting their messages.
So, what are these similar characteristics?
Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle identified these three areas of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, as ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS. Famous and effective communicators have used these elements of rhetoric time and time again to persuade and win over their audiences.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “…the faculty of discovering, in any particular case, all of the available means of persuasion.” He believed that you need all the means of persuasion to get people to trust you and advocated using all three of his main elements of rhetoric to do the job.
1. ETHOS or ‘Argument By Character’
Ethos uses the speaker’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy in order to persuade. It embodies goodwill, sincerity, credibility, commonality, and praise. ETHOS is used in advertisements all the time to establish credibility. For example, a car company stating that they’ve won safety awards for their cars. This shows overall virtue of the speaker and good will towards the audience. John F. Kennedy uses this to great effect in his inaugural speech in 1961.
2. PATHOS or ‘Argument By Emotion’
Pathos is the appeal to an audience’s sense of identity, self-interest, or sentiments. This involves contrast, energeia (vivid experience, making someone feel in the moment, feel what you feel), and emotion control. A great example of PATHOS is Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream…’ speech where he appeals to morals and human qualities common to us all. Humour can also be an effective form of persuasion here. It calms people down and creates common ground with an audience on an intuitive level.
3.LOGOS or ‘Argument By Logic’
Logos persuades by making a reasonable claim and offering proof in support of that claim. Here we use the power of story, framing ideas, and proof. Concession can be an important tool of LOGOS as you use your opponent’s argument to your own advantage; by conceding the validity of your opponent’s argument, you show you are listening and seeing their side.
One of the most poignant examples of using all three of these disciplines for persuasion is in children’s television’s Fred Rogers’ (Mister Rogers) appeal to the U.S. senate committee. In an attempt to save PBS’ 20 million dollar annual funding when it was in danger of being slashed in half in 1969. Mr Rogers faced one of the toughest most cynical senators on the committee and won.
Scottish philosopher David Hume recognised that you can never change someone’s mind in an argument with just reasoning and logic. In his view, we are animals primarily motivated and influenced by our intuitions and emotions. The majority of our convictions don’t actually come from facts.
Human reasoning is a servant to intuition
Arguments – Dance Not War
In Western culture we often treat or frame arguments like fights or like war. We attack our opponent’s positions and defend our own. We gain and lose ground.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, suggests that a more appropriate and conducive analogy is that of a dance. In this metaphor, we reach out to a person, we are opposites but we work together, we are cooperating. The argument becomes more about agreement than disagreement.
We don’t enter into an argument with someone unless we have some common interest with them to begin with. Instead of a war between good and evil, we can begin to think about rhetoric and persuasion as a dance between mutually interested groups.
When we fight, it is about winning. When we argue, it’s about winning over. “A fight never persuades, it only inspires revenge or retreat. An argument gets people to do what you want – it’s a means to a solution.” ( Jay Heinrichs, Thank You For Arguing)
Next time you craft a presentation, keep in mind the three areas of persuasion
ETHOS, PATHOS, AND LOGOS are passed down to us from the ancients and used by our greatest orators. Look to win over, not just win. Dance, don’t fight. It just might give you the edge in winning over your audience.
“ConfidentSpeak is a Voice and Communications consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We have worked with leading Irish and international companies and executives. Contact us for details on our range of corporate/private voice, executive presence and presenting programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.”
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We’ve all felt that surge of panic or anxiety when standing up in front of a group of people, about to talk. Your body is smart, it reacts to stress, panic, or fear and tells you that something is way out of your normal, daily realm of existence. So how do we turn this around so that what the audience see is a composed presenter oozing physical presence;
‘Yikes, I am not in Kansas anymore’
Public speaking – like physical training and sport – requires training and practice; You need to put in the time if you want to take advantage of those speaking opportunities when they come up and really knock it out of the park so you get the result you want.
So where to start? The answer lies in our Physical Presence
Our physical presence is one big piece of the presentation skills puzzle. Combined with vocal presence, it helps establish an emotional connection with the audience along with the words we say. In this, our first of two Amy Cuddy TED Talks, Amy speaks about the impact our body language has on our chances for success.
Listen To Your Gut
We’ve all been guided by our ‘gut instinct’ at some point and with good reason. Our bodies are intricately and acutely sensitive to how we react to the outside world. The brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of Neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback.
Most of the time we make decisions from our brain, our intellect, and forget about what the ‘other brain’- our gut, is telling us. Have you ever felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach? The ones you might feel when you’re in the first stages of love or attraction? We feel the same butterflies when we’re nervous of a talk we’re about to give. So the next time you’re stuck when you’re preparing a presentation, ask yourself, ‘What do I really want to talk about? What is my gut saying?’.
What Do You Want Them To Feel?
The impact of non-verbal messages are much stronger than words because the audience remembers them more and for longer. So, ask yourself what you’ve seen recently that made a speaker memorable? Was it the words they said or how they made you feel? Remember, what you feel up there as a presenter is what the audience gets. It’s like a mirror: What you feel, they feel. If you want the audience to feel excited, then find a way to manifest that in your own body. If it’s happy, then embody happiness.
Fake It Till You Become It
We’ve all heard the old adage ‘Fake it till you make it’, but it’s actually ‘Fake it till you become it’. Amy Cuddy did another TED Talk about physical indicators and gives scientific evidence supporting the theory that what we do physically effects how we feel. For example, smiling instantly makes us feel better. Even if it’s a fake smile manufactured by holding a pen between our teeth, we still get a release of positive energy. On the other side, slouching can make us feel defeated or depressed. Standing in a grounded, aligned posture with shoulders relaxed, feet hip width apart, and chest open elicits feelings of confidence and positivity and you will immediately exude physical presence
See It And Feel It
Michael Phelps won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics because he was able to complete his heat without being able to see. His goggles filled up with water and he couldn’t see where he was going but because he had visualised that race over and over beforehand, he knew every stroke before he even got into the pool. This helped him be prepared for anything and when he couldn’t see, he didn’t panic.
In your preparation for a speech or presentation, sit down and breathe, close your eyes and see yourself giving your presentation See the room, feel where you’re going to move and when. See yourself smiling, see the audience. Go through every move so that when you actually present or go into the meeting, the situation is already familiar.
Prepare For Your Worst Case Scenario
This is a great one for dealing with nerves as well. Think of your worst case scenario, ie. losing your place or not remembering what comes next. Imagine it happening, and list the things you can do to deal with that situation. This way, if you feel prepared and can deal with the worst thing that could happen, then you be ready to handle anything else that comes along as well. Remember, it’s okay to make a mistake! It won’t effect your physical presence, in fact audiences are known to respond well to vulnerability. Itt makes you seem more human and helps them to connect with you.
Don’t wait until you step into the room for that high stakes meeting to prepare and put skills and techniques into place. Implement small changes beforehand and as you practice and prepare and you’ll reap the benefits tenfold. You’ll establish physical presence from the offset, be more able to connect with your audience, share your ideas, and get the results you want.
“ConfidentSpeak is a Voice and Communications consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We have worked with leading Irish and international companies and executives. Contact us for details on our range of corporate/private voice and communications programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.”
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