Dead Fish: Engagement and Empathy in Presentations

  • Show that you’re excited and happy to be there – This is the first rule of nearly anything we do and yet it is easy to forget. Enthusiasm is contagious — be contagious.
    1. Get a simple yes – Anything that will elicit a positive, simple crowd response is a good start. Say it and then wait for a response. If you don’t get the response you want, say it again. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? Come on, people, it’s a beautiful day, right?”
    1. Cold call – Ask a question and again wait for the response. If none comes chose someone who seems likely to have an answer. This can even work well in even larger lecture halls – just be sure to choose carefully.
    1. Close the distance – Get away from the PC. Now that you’ve called on someone, walk toward that person. Walking toward someone in the audience, with whom you’ve made eye contact, will usually engender a response. At the very minimum, show open and welcoming body language toward them. Bill Clinton is the master of this technique.
    1. Follow up – The person you have engaged has answered. Now, ask a follow up question, “How? Why? Because?” This shows that you are not only listening, but also adds depth to the conversation.
    1. Use their words – Repeat their specific words or phrasing in your response to what the person has said. Person in audience: “Nike’s the best brand because it’s for winners.” You: “Wow. Nike’s the best brand because it’s for winners. What a strong answer.”
    1. Reward them – Give those who engaged a verbal prize. “Thank you for that.” “Excellent question!” “Oh, yes, good point.”
    1. Insist on it – Don’t let the audience drift. If you ask a question, be sure to get a response. “I just asked a question. I need a response. You need to talk to me.”
    1. Ask them to help you – “Don’t leave me up here by myself. I need you with me. Let’s focus on this.” It’s surprising how well this works. It’s a simple request for empathy, for a response.
    Back to our student: To her credit she persevered through the course without becoming cold or giving up on engaging with the audience. She continued to be open and enthusiastic. Sometimes the audience responded, sometimes it didn’t. But, in the end, but she became much better about getting empathetic response, and that was all that mattered. This originally appeared at]]>