Connecting with the Audience

Daniel Solé
L3, Spain

Daniel Solé
L3, Spain

You have been selected to present a seminar at a Judge Conference, either at a Grand Prix, National Conference,… You have been preparing your topic, and you have everything ready for it: a PowerPoint, some notes in order to remember everything you want to say, a presenters pen and printed handouts for your audience.
It’s your turn, so you go to the platform (if there is one) from where you will present your seminar, you turn around, and then you take a glimpse at the audience: you see a lot of faces looking at you, most of them inexpressive, waiting for you to begin your seminar. You know you have prepared it, so everything should be under control, but… how can you engage your audience in the topic you are going to talk about?

Before the Seminar

Although it’s very important to prepare the contents of your seminar, there are some other thing you can do before actually presenting the seminar to connect with your audience. First of all, think about your audience, and prepare the seminar according to them. It’s not the same presenting something to judges who got certified some weeks ago or presenting the same topic to experienced judges. When talking to new judges, you can probably give them some advice, while talking to experienced judges you can use their experience while you present your seminar.

It’s also useful to arrive early to check the audience’s atmosphere. And. If you’re not presenting the first seminar, it’s also useful to listen and observe presenters before you. By doing this, you can get a lot of useful information, and you can adapt your notes to what you hear, feel and see.

Presenting the seminar

Probably the beginning of the seminar is the moment where it’s more important (and easier) to engage with the audience. Your body is your best ally to achieve that, so use it. You can pause before you begin, and you should walk, if possible, toward the audience. Establish eye contact with your audience, one at a time. Hold eye contact for 5 to 7 seconds, then look at someone else in the eye (note that some cultures consider eye contact rude, so be careful when speaking in other countries).

Gesturing is also very important. The bigger the room and the group, the bigger the gesture, but be careful not to perform unnecessary gestures. Try to make the same gestures you would make in a normal conversation, but bigger.

When giving examples, use your own histories to emphasize those examples. If you don’t have any history related to what you’re talking about, you can ask some other judges if they have one, and ask permission from them to use it. But remember to ask those judges before the conference, or you may end with no examples at all.

PowerPoint, and other presenting programs, are very useful, but don’t overuse it. In this situation the sentence “less is more” applies. Use pictures in your visuals, for example people, faces, animals,… This gives your audience an emotional zap, and allows you to lock your points in their brains, keeping the audience’s attention.

Encourage healthy debate. When presenting a seminar you’re giving your opinion or your personal experience in this area, but this doesn’t mean that there not may be more opinions about these area. So encourage the audience to express their opinion, and act as a moderator if more than one person wants to talk. However, this may lead to subjects that are not related to the actual seminar, so stop the debate (in a polite form, of course) when this happens.

Smiling is your best friend, whereas nerves are your worst enemy. Smile a lot when presenting your seminar, even if it’s fake. If you smile at the audience, it is likely they will smile back. A smile creates good feelings and a true connection between you and the audience, even if the smile is forced. That’s true because people are very bad at recognizing a fake smile, and they will read the smile as a positive thing, a positive connection.

Even though a fake smile is okay, nerves are not. Normally audience detects them very fast, and they are not very welcomed among audiences – they’re not inspiring nor trustworthy. There are lots of ways to relax before the seminar. One is, of course, knowing your material well. The more you prepare your seminar, the more relaxed you will be. But there are also many physical activities that you can do to relax yourself. Some people jump up and down for two minutes before going on stage, other do stretchings, others do power positions. For example, going to the bathroom and staying with the arms wide open for some minutes. When our body is in an open extended position, the brain feels like if we were in a position of superiority, and this increases our confidence. Try to find whatever it’s appropriate for you.

And finally, think about questions. When do you prefer them? Do you feel comfortable answering questions during the presentation or do you prefer them at the end? Some people feel uncomfortable when they are interrupted by a question, so make clear to the audience that you will answer questions at the end. However, for a healthy conference, it’s better to let the audience ask question during the conference, and the easiest way is to engage them to raise their hand if they want to ask something or add something to your explanation.

After the Seminar

Yes, you can also connect with the audience once the seminar is over. In fact, positive connection is after your presentation.

First of all, stick around when you finish your seminar, and be available. Normally the good questions come at this point. If you pack everything as soon as you finish your seminar, anyone who wants to speak with you will feel disregarded, and you will lose this excellent opportunity. If there’s a reason for leaving the area quickly, tell the audience that you will meet them in another area.

Approaching the audience when finishing the seminar is also a good idea. You can smile, shake hands and make eye contact with the audience, and they will see that you are available to them if they want to ask something.

And you can also offer them your e-mail, or ask their e-mail, if they want to discuss something. Take in mind that many people are afraid of asking questions in public, so by doing this you offer them the chance to discuss privately whatever they think it’s important.

In Conclusion

Although it’s very important to prepare your conference before actually presenting it, it’s also very important to engage the audience. Even the best preparation, or a person who is a really expert in the area he’s presenting, can fail in achieving his or her purpose by presenting the seminar if he or she doesn’t engage the audience.

One last thing: what if you do all this and you still don’t connect to the audience? We give you an advice: Blame it on the audience, and try it somewhere else. As some experts say: “Some audiences are just not right for you”. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen in the majority of situations, so try to do your best and you’ll probably connect with your audience!!


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