Five Ways to Engage Your Audience (Without Flying on a Trapeze)

Stewart Bewley

Cirque du Soleil are a circus to behold — high flying acrobatics, jaw-dropping acts designed to entertain. Here’s maybe what you didn’t know about Cirque Du Soleil — they use AI to measure their audience’s reaction to see which tricks work. A performer goes up on a trapeze and the data Cirque du Soleil take is from the human being’s reaction — the amount of awe/wonder/boredom that is revealed from the audience. They need to know what their audience is thinking so they can adjust. Most of us don’t have access to hightech AI, and most of us aren’t trapeze artistes, BUT we all have audiences that we want to engage. Are there sure-fire ways of reaching your audience and measuring their reaction?

The answer — Yes and No.

No — you can’t read a book by its cover. That person online/in the front row looking at you like you have just killed their cat might actually be enjoying your presentation — you will always have those. always. But casting the “You killed my cat” face aside, the answer to this question is yes — you can do some things to make sure your audience is engaging. Here are 5 of them.

  1. Present to the face of the audience, eyeball to eyeball. We find trust or mis-trust in someone’s eyes, so if you give your eyes to the audience, with a smile, they will find it much easier to connect with you. On screen this is really simple — anchor your eyes towards the fish eye, the eye of the camera, NOT where the person has been placed by Zoom/Teams/Google Meet on the screen. If you are looking directly into the camera eye you are looking directly into their eyes. If you are actually presenting in person, actually look at someone for 10 seconds. Let your eyes linger a little bit longer than they would and smile. Don’t try and “fly by” everyone’s eyes. You don’t need the whole of the audience’s eyes to get their attention. Just focus on 3 people — one at the back, one at the front and one at the middle. I once saw Simon Sinek speak at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He was asked a question by someone up in the gods (three balcony levels up from the stage) and for 3 minutes he just looked at her and talked to her. I was gripped. And he wasn’t looking at me.Be bold, use your eyes.
  2. Imagine the audience are your close friend who you haven’t seen in a while. If you feel warm towards them you will generate and show that warmth. Albert Mehrabian says that when we are presenting something that we care about, 55% of that is body language, 38% tonality (how we say what we say) and 7% content. 93% is our bodies and voices — there is a reason why the AI at Cirque du Soleil works — it can read it! So be warm with your bodies and voice. Fake the warmth until you can feel it. Doing that to a screen is difficult but it will set you apart. Actually practise this. Don’t just wait until the moment. Pretend you love these people! If you are in the room then you will be able to feel the warmth coming back at you.
  3. Use as much picture as you can. Scientists argue that over 90% of what we process in our brains is processed in picture. So help your audience engage by giving them what they want — and what they want is picture. In Akash Karia’s Ted Talks Storytelling he says that the top 200 TED talks all start with a story. Stories are full of picture. It’s ALL about the picture. So if you are explaining a fact, or an end of quarter report, be bold and use the “It’s a little bit like”. “Last quarter, getting our key stakeholders to buy in was a little bit like persuading a vegetarian to eat meat. Impossible. But then we introduced our new strategy and everyone is buying — we are giving them the vegetarian banquet they want because we listened to them. We increased Sales by 32%, …..”.
  4. Trust the science, not yourself. like an irrational fear of heights will stop someone climbing, safely, in a harness up a high-wire obstacle course, so irrational fear of picture and looking stupid will stop you from putting on the harness of picture and climbing this presentation. Adrenaline is real, it is a hormone that fires through your body when you feel threat and when you go to present your picture it will fire through your body and try to take over you. It will say to you “Don’t use picture. That is a BAD idea”. It is lie — science proves it. So you have to trust the science and not yourself. Adrenaline will try and get you to own these feelings of fear and “I can’t do that” for yourself. Don’t let it. How?
  5. Practise until you are permanently GOOD at making eye contact, imagining the audience is your friend, speaking in picture and trusting the science. It won’t just happen over night but it will happen.

Stewart Bewley

Stewart founded Amplify back in 2011 from an acting background, believing that if you unlocked people’s voices you would unlock their story and their businesses would thrive.

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