When was the last time you gave a presentation to a group of 20 or more people? Were you intimidated or did you own the room? Did you exude confidence or make the audience writhe in their seats? There are endless techniques you can use to perfect your delivery and enhance your presentations but one of my favorites is the audience advocate. An audience advocate is that person (or people) in the audience who nod and give you positive affirmation that what you are saying is resonating with him or her. Their body language and actions – such as a nod, a smile or an expression of understanding – give the presenter confidence. In essence, they become the advocate of your message as you deliver your presentation.
There are really two ways to create a good audience advocate. The first way is by planting one. That’s right, stage it! Hey, even the funniest shows on TV use laugh tracks to enhance live audience responses. Plant a friendly colleague or set of colleagues in the audience who you know will give you good presenter’s karma. Their karma will spread to those around them and soon you will have a whole audience of nodding and smiling advocates.
While a good technique, often it is impractical to plant your advocates in advance.
So, what is a presenter to do?
Technique #2 uses a combination of psychology and Jedi mind control: feed them apple pie. In other words: give them things we can all agree on. Statements or questions that elicit common, familiar and binding emotional and physical responses are your primary goal. Clapping, nodding, hand-raising, standing, etc.: all of these are reactions that get your audience warmed up and ready to advocate. If you can get them to stand, clap, nod or laugh throughout the presentation, it will inevitably build your confidence and energy as a speaker. The flavor of the questions or method of audience engagement can vary from presentation-to-presentation but the technique still remains.
It could be a question:
“Have you ever received a gift that you just hated?”
It could be a joke:
“Don’t you think it’s amazing that 200 of us had dinner together and we all pretty much ordered the same thing?” (source)
It could be a polling question:
“I’m curious: how many of you got caught in traffic at some point this week?”
Whatever technique you choose, your audience engagement should be relevant and relatable. You want the substance to be relevant and contextually appropriate given your audience. But perhaps more important, it should be relatable; it should cause a positive emotional reaction with physical proof such as smiles, laughs or something that will loosen those nodding neck muscles. Do this throughout your presentation and keep those heads nodding.
Now, those of you who know me know that I’m a nodder. I love throwing karma in presentations and letting the presenter know I am engaged. If you are a presenter, find your advocates and use them to your advantage. Audience advocates can help you set the emotional tone and energy in the room. Likewise, they can also serve as engagement barometers. If your known advocates are not paying attention and staying engaged, it may be time for you to change course in your presentation.
Audience advocates can be a tremendous boost to speaker confidence and all it takes is a little planning to insert some presenter pastry (aka “apple pie”) into your presentation.