My favorite speaking engagement is always the last one I just finished doing. I am always eager to get to the next speaking engagement and meet the new audience. But there is nothing like savoring the last speaking engagement. I enjoy thinking about the interactions with the audience and participants. There are always some very good exchanges that I love to think about. These moments are very inspiring for me, because I know I connected and shared some deeper communication than just the words from my mouth or the pictures I tried to paint in the minds of the audience.
There is a mutual recognition in those moments of connection that speaks to a very deep emotional level. You can sometimes get close to this in a one on one conversation or when working with a small group. But there is something about the group energy of a larger audience at a speaking engagement that allows me to connect with a few people on a very personal level. I think the audiences at a speaking engagement pick up on that and it helps them focus more intently on the images and emotions that one can sometimes get swirling around the room.
It is my job at a speaking engagement to find a way to get to this level of energy in the room. Every audience is different. Many of my presentation subjects are different from each other in both substance and style. But still there is always a way to bring up the energy level in the room. Sometimes you come into a room that is already full of energy. I find this is particularly true when doing a speaking engagement for children. They are not yet jaded by having been forced to attend too many boring and insignificant meetings and presentations as is the case for many adults. They live far more for the moment and are not yet fretting about the mortgage, car payments or next month’s performance review. When you can pick up this energy and give it back to the kids with content they find interesting and stimulating, they give it right back to you with even more excitement.
Sometimes when my speaking engagement is at a conference, the attendees are tired from a full schedule and bored with having been inside the hotel or conference center too many hours in a row. Many conference presenters are giving factual presentations or reports of findings and best practices. Although this information is often valuable business intelligence for conference attendees, it is not often interesting or exciting. At times it is even the restatement of old information. So a conference audience can be a little tricky to wake up. It can take some effort to get everyone engaged and in full cognitive attendance. It can take a few minutes for the audience members to give up all the distractions bouncing around in their heads and to focus on the content and its emotional subtext.
This is why the really great speakers are so good at creating visuals, telling stories and creating unusual mental connections for their audiences. Nothing pulls someone’s attention like a truly engaging story with a good lesson. Aesop is still a best seller.
Sometimes a good joke is a great way to get people’s attention so they will allow themselves to become engaged with you. But then you have to be a good joke teller. I was reading some funny anecdotes with my Dad a few weeks ago. We have a similar sense of humor and enjoy sharing a few laughs together. His theory of humor is that we are intrigued and amused by the unexpected. He thinks a joke or a pun or an anecdote works when the outcome is unexpected. I think he is right, but I also think we love a twist on something familiar. For instance: a potato walks into a bar and says to the bartender, “I’d like a beer, please”. And the bartender replies, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve food here”.
When I am at my speaking engagement I try to find something unexpected or some new twist on something familiar so my audience can let go and come along with me on the short journey that is my presentation. If they can come with me and focus on the content, we can get some good energy going and make some very good connections.