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Top Performers Talk About Their Audiences

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  • February 14, 2013
  • Mark Schulman

Mark Papia, Chief Revenue Officer of Connexivity, has a powerful tool for addressing a big audience.  “When you’re speaking in front of a group of 20 people or a group of 2,000 people, you deal with that by not focusing on the fact that there are 2,000 people looking at you, you deal with that by thinking about the fact that it’s you and an audience. It’s one of you and one of them.”

Mark gave me some more insights on actions he takes to engage people, and create greater connection and interactivity with an audience when giving a presentation.  “I’ve gone to meetings where you go out in the startup world and you raise money.  When you have those types of meetings, there might be 20 people in the room. So it’s a big enough number that it’s a little jolting but it’s not so big that it’s completely unnerving.  I’m not talking about a situation where you go to somebody’s office for a one on one, but if it’s like a meeting in a hotel and you’ve rented the room and people are coming to see you, and you’re in front of the room. Say 20 people come in; it would blow your mind to know how many presenters don’t take the time to introduce themselves to the audience individually. Everybody says, ‘Thanks for coming today. I’m excited to be here. I represent Connexity and we’re looking to do a Series B, and I’m going to lay out our value…’ Everybody introduces but you’d be shocked to learn how few people don’t stand at the door and introduce themselves to people as they walk in or take the time away from the presentation to introduce themselves and shake hands.”

Here is why that is so important to Mark.  “There’s going to come a point in your presentation where you’re going to ask if anybody has a question. And what typically happens when you say, ‘Does anybody have any questions?’ is that either nobody wants to be the first to raise their hand or nobody cared enough about your presentation to actually want to go one step further. And you can get that 60 seconds of awkwardness when you’re looking around the room begging for somebody to just raise their hand- then there’s nothing.

“I always introduce myself.  When you take the time before you start to go up to somebody and say, ‘Hey, I’m Mark Papia and thanks for joining us today; excited that you’re here,’ that breaks the ice with every one of those 20 people.  And when you say, ‘Hey, does anybody have any questions?’ All of a sudden, there are three or four hands up.  Those questions tend to be an important compliment to your presentation.”

That makes total sense because you’re actually creating a deeper level of connectivity.  People are going to be more comfortable to communicate with you on a personal level because they do feel like they’ve actually met you.  I’ve used a similar tactic in some of my seminars when the audience is less than a hundred people.  When I get introduced, I go right into the audience and shake everyone’s hand while laughing and creating a comfortable and personal environment.  Then I might say something like, ‘This feels like we are all friends hanging out in my living room, so please feel free to raise your hand at any point during my presentation and ask any question you like.’  I also remind the audience of a very plausible thing.  ‘If you have any question whatsoever, please ask me because more than likely there is someone else in the audience that has the same question but they might be two shy to ask.  This way you are actually being of service to others because every question is a good one.’”

Dr. Sol Hamburg is a doctor of oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills and one of the foremost communicators and speakers in the medical industry.  He thinks that when we are communicating or presenting that there is nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re pure of heart, there’s no shame. He also says that your audiences won’t remember the details of what you say. It’s just so critical to reach as many people as you can.

“A lot of anxieties for me come from worrying about being judged. If you get away from outside judgment, you’re more confident with yourself.” Dr. Sol was also a severe stutterer. He could read out loud in a room with nobody there and never stutter. His anxiety came from the projection that people were judging him in some way. So, he spent a lot of time doing exercises, telling himself not to worry about (potential) critics. They were just along for the ride.

Dr. Sol has been to hundreds of lectures. “You really don’t come away with everything the person said; you come away with a feeling. When I listen to you play the drums, I don’t remember how many times you hit the cymbal. I remember the gestalt, the big picture. People tell themselves that everybody is watching their every move or listening to their every word; we don’t really look at people like that. When you see a good-looking woman, you don’t look just at her nose or her eyes, it’s the whole picture. With audiences, they’re judging the big picture. That’s critical to helping calm me down.”

Sol does pay attention to his audience’s ability to understand him, in a convention hall or in his office. He says the resolution to his problem was about being focused on his ‘audience’ back to his early childhood, when in moments of true selflessness, his stuttering would cease.

“My first language is Yiddish, and my parents are immigrants. I translated for my mother at the butcher store.  The stuttering was completely gone!”

He said that he also developed an appreciation for the art of simplifying things.  This is a very audience centric approach to communicating or presenting, especially when you can become overly technical and potentially lose your audience.  “I had to simplify things. English words don’t necessarily translate into Yiddish easily, and vice versa. So, let’s say a piece of steak has a lot of grizzle in it. But, I can’t use the word ‘grizzle.’ There’s no word for ‘grizzle’ in Yiddish. I have to use the word ‘fat.’ Now, I’m used to translating jargon into common language. If there are patients who don’t like the fact that I simplify things, I send them to Dr. Fred Rosenthal who’s very stodgy and formal!”

For those whose biggest fear is a crowd, have faith! Most people feel more comfortable performing in front of lots of people than in front of a couple. Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih says his ideal audience is at least 500 people. The audience size he hates the most: 50. It’s too big for him to make a connection with each person, but too small for his jokes to really go over. He says bigger crowds make everything seem funnier. And eye contact? “I’ve read books that suggest that you find three people and make eye contact with each person. I don’t do that. That doesn’t work for me.”

It is smart to clarify the method that works best for you. I’ve done hundreds of shows with P!NK, who is one of the best performers in the world. She makes eye contact with as many people as possible and she talks to an audience of 20,000 as if it’s in her living room. When we hang out one-on-one, she talks to me the same way.

When entrepreneur and CEO David Kalt gets super excited or passionate about anything, he starts perspiring. He says the condition was particularly bad when he was holding investor meetings prior to the stock market launch of his Chicago Music Exchange. To stem the tide, his Nerve Breaker of choice is eye contact.

“If I could make eye contact and play offense, I’d feel much more comfortable than being on defense. That wasn’t very natural to me, because I’m more of a laid back, relaxed kind of guy. I’m not very aggressive. I’m not super competitive. But in the context of a business meeting, there are two, three or four people, and you immediately have the opportunity to set the stage and get in a position where you feel strength and confidence. I realized I had to actually make eye contact and make that visual connection—and then it all just came up from there.

“I use my eyes because people have told me in the past that when I get excited, there’s a glitter in my eye. When people tell you that, you’ve got to figure out how to use it. So, I figured out how to use that eye technique to immediately dazzle and deliver. Then, it just came out as confidence, because I felt like I had a little bit of an edge in the room. Anybody who is passionate about something has that gleam in their eyes. Everybody’s got it, this passion. There’s something about the body that physically changes, and the eyes always sparkle if you’re truly, authentically passionate about something.”

A great way to think about your audience is to first define your main purpose in the presentation.

 

Action Steps:

Define your relationship to your audience:
-Do they know me personally?

-Might they have prejudices about me?

-Do I have prejudices about them?

-What are our similarities and potential shared experiences?

-What are our differences?

-Might there be any barriers in communication for which I can prepare?

-Is your audience knowledgeable about your topic?

-How much background do they need if any?

-How much can they relate to your topic?

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