It’s hard to hold a conversation when your eyes are glued to your phone. According to communication expert Sonya Hamlin, author of How to Talk So People Listen, our devices are so seductive that the average audience can only concentrate on what another person is saying for 1.5 minutes. Break through the technology barrier, hold your audience's attention, and get what you want by employing these simple strategies.
Whether you're giving a presentation or meeting with your boss, you need to know your material inside and out. “Imagine being in an audience and feeling as if the person speaking isn’t really an expert,” says Michael Neuendorff, president of the public speaking coaching organization Speak Well and Sell. “How likely are you to be persuaded by them?” Someone is much more likely to be convinced if they're confident you know what you're talking about.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
If you don’t know what your audience wants or needs, how will you be able to persuade them to do something? The key to getting your audience to listen—and to respond the way you want them to—is by tailoring your message to their interests. “If you’re speaking to an audience and trying to convince them to go vegetarian, do you hinge your case on it being good for the planet or good for their health?” Neuendorff asked. “You’ll have to know your audience to answer this one.”
3. BE CONFIDENT.
Or at least pretend to be confident. “Here’s a little secret for you: The old adage ‘Fake it till you make it’ works in public speaking,” Neuendorff says. “Think like an actor and perform.” The more confident you appear, the more likely the audience will believe you.
4. TREAT YOUR PRESENTATION LIKE A CONVERSATION.
"The best advice I give my clients when they ask is to speak conversationally," says Lenny Laskowski, international professional speaker and president and CEO of LJL Seminars. "We all have conversations each day, and generally do not have a problem carrying on casual conversations." Lightening the tone can take the pressure off, allowing you to feel more at ease and appear more confident.
5. TELL STORIES.
A great anecdote can leave a lasting impression on your audience. “It’s true that facts are strong when making a case,” Neuendorff says. “However, facts can be forgotten and they don’t necessarily create an emotional connection, which you know is important.” Neuendorff suggests bolstering a logical argument with compelling stories that further prove a point.
6. STRUCTURE YOUR PRESENTATION.
Neuendorff recommends using a structure he calls “Then, Now, How." Start by talking about how things were before, then transition to how they are now, emphasizing the positive or negative changes. Then, launch into how these changes occurred.
7. ASK QUESTIONS.
By pausing to ask your audience (whatever the size) questions, you raise the stakes: They feel more invested in discovering the root problem and creating a solution for it, says leadership motivator Tony Alessandra, who has delivered more than 2000 speeches. “Well-phrased questions are the mark of a skilled persuader. Such queries help people organize their thoughts and feelings, and the answers smooth the way for the building of rapport,” he says. The key, however, is to ask open-ended questions, the kind that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no."
8. STAY POSITIVE.
If you disagree with your conversation partner, acknowledge their opinion before offering your counter. Hamlin recommends you say something like, "Let me piggyback on that by saying," or "Let me add to that." This "yes, and" approach to negotiating makes the other person feel heard and valued, and therefore more willing to extend you the same respect.