Engaging an audience can be daunting at the best of times. Especially when they believe the topic you are tasked with explaining has a lot in common with watching not-yet-dry paint. Even though you’re the one with the technical expertise here, it can be seriously demoralising to give a presenation and feel like you're boring everyone to death. But it doesn’t have to stay like this.
Story is your friend here. We’ve always been drawn to good storytellers. It’s the same reason why we’re drawn to leaders who are effective communicators. It almost doesn’t matter how boring their topic, it’s never a boring conversation. They simply know how to story-tell it.
The good news is: Storytelling is a skill that can be learned. It is not something you need to be born with. If you’re worried you’re boring people, you can become inspiring with the right tools. It’s all about the delivery and your content. So without further ado:
Make your content memorable
“I thought you said the topic didn’t matter?” - yes, but there’s more to content than the subject matter. Think of the topic as the name of the restaurant. The content is the specific delicious meal you’re serving.
At LSW, we use a tool called the meal plan to help your content stick in the heads of your listeners:
Stage 1: The meal
- The meat or protein: The essence of what you want to say. Condense this into three or four points. Clarify for yourself the main messages you really want to communicate.
- The vegetables: The why this is important to you. Your values make what you’re saying interesting, compelling and authentic. You can communicate this as clearly as saying “I’m really proud of this because…” or “I believe that this will really make a difference”. This is how you engage people at a gut level.
- The spice: The something that brings your content to life. You could do this using examples or metaphors. Or you could include observations from life, illustrative descriptions, a funny experience - something to make the content sparkle. Generic anecdotes won’t work so well here, tap into your own real-life experiences.
Stage 2: The recipe
The order of the content is just as important as the content itself. There’s little point in placing all your intriguing anecdotes at the very end or very beginning of what you have to say.
Jamie Chapman, one of our Principal Coaches says, “When working with clients, I tend to use the meal plan with a topic that they feel passionate about, first of all, then we try with a work-based topic. One rule of thumb is that the drier the topic, the more spice you have to add.”
Deliver your message like it’s Michelin dining
A Michelin starred chef is characterised by their passion. A great storyteller is exactly the same.
Our listeners can only be as enamoured with our topic as we are. The trap we can fall into is that when we believe our topic is boring, our attitude quickly becomes contagious. Even before we start speaking, the sense that “this topic is boring” is already in the energy we’re bringing, so others experience it as dull. Changing how others feel about what we say starts with changing how we feel about what we say.
Remembering the ‘why’ behind your message can begin to shift things. What is the gem you want to place in your listener’s hand? A physical precious stone has obvious value to everyone. The way you treat your own message affects whether your listeners see the gem, or your clenched hand.
There are simple methods of delivery that can play a big part here: Let your enthusiasm show in your eyes. Keep them alert and make use of your eyebrows. Smile. Take your hands out of your pockets and gesture for emphasis.
When it comes to the actual speaking, make your vocal landscape interesting. The best messages are delivered like the best views, with dramatic peaks and moments of space. Intonation, pacing and controlled emphasis are your friends here. Land with energy at the end of each point you make. Give it the moment it deserves.
Most importantly, enjoy the delivery! If you’re having a good time, others will likely have a good time along with you!
Tap into that empathy factor
When speaking on a technical subject, the temptation is to stick to the comfort of the technical phrases we know, rather than empathise with those we are addressing.
Imagine two politicians, John and Tim. Let’s pretend they’re not talking about Brexit and have time to talk to journalists about other issues:
John says, “I’d like to stress the primacy of keeping the RPI below 3% because of the negative effect this can have on average living standards. This is of special importance with regards to the impact on the minimum lending rate and the implications this has on the housing market.”
Meanwhile, Tim says, “When prices rise, it hits the vulnerable first. (pause for emphasis) A constituent contacted me last week, a pensioner who is living on a small fixed income. She wrote to me saying that as prices rise she is forced to make a difficult choice - either turn off her heating... or skip meals. (perhaps another pause for emphasis) Inflation is robbing her of the dignity which is her right. I cannot stand by and let this happen. I will do everything in my power to ensure people in my constituency have their most basic rights for warmth, food and dignity met. (cue mic drop)”
John, the first politician, loses everyone at ‘RPI’. Who would you rather listen to (party politics aside?). Who out of the two has the potential to connect with the electorate and understand what people need and want?
Tim, the second politician, pulls upon a personal story to spice his point, but he also steps down from his technical vantage point to empathise with those who don’t understand what RPI (retail price index) is, but do feel the impact when the RPI rises. Likewise, when we shift the focus of our message from the concept to the implications of our concepts (how people feel and experience the subject in question) then they are far more likely to be moved to act upon your message. For more on empathy, check out Emma's insights in our previous post Empathy is your superpower: How to be a powerful communicator.
You’re already a competent professional. You’re already talented. All of these tools are simply about becoming a storyteller in your field. Becoming one who inspires. Engaging an audience is not out of reach for anyone. Check out our Effective Communication courses if you want to keep your audience engaged no matter what the subject matter of your presentation.