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The “Secret Sauce” of Engagement in Public Speaking

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These days, I look forward to Monday mornings because of an Accounting class I have been enrolled into. Granted that the content of the class has a more qualitative slant (as opposed to a quantitative one) and I take to that more naturally, what really makes the difference and uplifts those dreaded early mornings… is my Professor.

Let’s call him Professor J. The first time I attended his class, I was both surprised and humbled. What you need to know about Prof J is that he’s probably in his 60s but the sheer energy and enthusiasm that overflows from him will put most people in their twenties to shame.

In fact, he’s not only a competent content deliverer (as with most professors with technical training/background), he actively uses the techniques of storytelling, monologue, callbacks, dramatization, reiteration, audience-centered references, interviews, snap conversations and a whole lot of extemporaneous conversations and interactions in his lessons.

His pet phrase (word) is “This is enlightenment” and he says it with the same pair of shining eyes like what Benjamin Zander describes as the success of a conductor (or speaker) who has the “job of awakening possibility in other people”, in his TED video (17:50).

As a trainer myself, I know it’s tough to engage an audience for a sustained period of time especially when it’s early in the morning. Yet, Prof J has done it nonetheless for the past five lessons.

Then the question we should all ask is,

“Why aren’t there more Prof Js in our schools, companies and conferences we attend if we know that audience engagement is necessary to facilitate learning and knowledge transfer?”

Who are YOU as a speaker?

Let’s face it – the fact that we are all time-starved individuals.

Not only in the classrooms but we have also observed on many occasions in the board rooms, executives wield out their Iphones or Blackberries and begin checking their inbox minutes into a presentation.

What happens in the audience’s mind is a real simple matter of choice –

“Is there value in me tuning in to what the speaker is saying or should I steal a couple of minutes to reply to this “urgent” email or text?”

Chances are that we seldom experience presentations or speeches that can wholly engulf us in its entirety in our normal day-to-day lives because it takes tremendous amount of preparation, effort and presence on the part of the speakers to hold such spaces. It is difficult, period. So what often happens is that from an audience point of view, a lot of selection and discrimination takes place in the split moment to make the decision to listen in to segments of a presentation, or not. Our audience is often more discerning than we think them of to be.

Yet the problem with most speakers and educators is that we assume that by virtue of our perceived role, authority, knowledge or status, we can wash our hands off in getting our audience to be interested in what we are saying because that’s their responsibility. It is at their own peril if they choose not to be so. That’s the case, really?

Sounds familiar?

I like to suggest that if you see yourself as a mere provider of content and are not bothered about what happens next, then you’re well and fine.

But if you do see yourself as an educator or speaker, one of your necessary roles is to facilitate i.e. to make easier. To enroll your audience into the process of learning and discovery.

You can be the lubricant for the wheels of learning or resign yourselves to be the rust that impedes development. You can take your audience on an imaginary adventure outside of the square confines of your classroom and be amazed about the world around or be the source of a humming drone that puts to sleep. You can be the “spark” that ignites new possibilities and motivate others into taking action or you can be the “fire extinguisher” that douses interest and any remaining will to learn.

Who will YOU choose to be?

The Secret Sauce – Love

Beneath it all, speakers and educators (Prof J included) who consciously know their roles and play it to their best of abilities, do it largely for one reason – love, of some sort.

Be it for the love of the subject or the art or the work, the love to inspire and motivate or simply, the love for your audience to see beyond what they are seeing and reach beyond what they think they are capable of because you know they deserve it.. etc.

If you haven’t found your “secret sauce”, perhaps it’s time you dig deeper.

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