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Engage the Audience

The key word to remember is engagement—getting the audience to look, listen, and respond. But how do you engage an audience? By appealing to its intelligences. All of us have more than one type of intelligence. According to psychologist and author Howard Gardner, we have at least seven, covering mind, body, and spirit. All too often, presentations appeal only to the intellect, ignoring our physical, emotional, and spiritual sides.[2]

Good leadership communicators strive to reach both the head and the heart. They want to pitch ideas to the mind, where we figure things out with logic and reason. But they also work to reach the heart, our emotional side, where decisions are made. Leaders need to make a strong emotional case for a vision statement; they need their followers to see, touch, and feel what the future will be like once the vision becomes reality.

Leaders can borrow lessons from salespeople. Salespeople are practiced masters at knowing how to close when the customer is excited and emotionally involved. Leaders can capture the same kind of engagement as they seek to sell their message. Effective presenters must connect with the audience in at least one and often more of the following ways.

  • Stimulating the intellect. Cogito, ergo sum wrote Descartes four centuries ago. As a presenter, you want to engage the audience's attention through the reasoning of your presentation. This is why you want to give your presentation a strong structure, augmented with compelling facts. General George Marshall was not a scintillating orator, but when he briefed Congress on war issues, everyone listened because he knew his stuff.

  • Appealing to the emotions. Touch the emotions. Make people feel the power of your presentation by awakening their emotions. You can do this with stories. You can do it with pictures. You can do it with games. CEO Steve Jobs captures attention with his body language and his skillful product demos for Apple Computers.

  • Engaging the body. Create movement. Encourage the audience to get up and move with you. Revivalist preachers invite those who feel the spirit to come to the front. Why? Because they know that when a person is engaged physically, she or he is more likely to be engaged in mind and spirit. Colin Powell is a polished professional speech-giver; he gesticulates on cue, but with conviction. By contrast, Bill Veeck was a jumble of seemingly distracting activities—he would tousle his hair or scratch his wrist.[3] But each of these men used his physicality to make appropriate points.

How can you develop your presentation so that you do this? You are limited only by the range of your imagination. Here are some ways to get the audience to focus its attention on you and your leadership message.

[2]Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

[3]Pat Williams with Michael Weinreb, Marketing Your Dreams: Business and Life Lessons from Bill Veeck, Baseball's Marketing Genius (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, Inc., 2000), p. 173.


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