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Energize a Cold Audience


By Tom Nixon

Many times a speaker, through no fault of their own, steps to the front of the room and faces a cold audience. It could be the time of day, the meal before or after the session, the previous speaker, an organization-wide situation, or even the temperature, setup, and/or lighting of the room. It could be anything. The energy and the expectations are bottomed out. You may well have to struggle to get the power level up.

A presenter can use a number of techniques to open their time and energize the room – to get people involved and take notice. The three most effective categories directly involve the audience: get them thinking, get them moving, or get them talking. Let me give you a few examples of each.

Get them thinking. These are the traditional openings many speech coaches advise. Most of them are cerebral and less energizing than physical or interactive openings.

Ask a question. Challenge a widely held belief. Recite a quote. Tell a story. Show a film clip or other multimedia material. And a final strategy, tell a joke — which hopefully is relevant to your subject and causes some mental investment on the listener’s part. Be aware that when your audience is cold it may take a lot of thinking on their part to “warm up” to the beginning of your talk.

Get them moving. Movement of any kind — even applause —almost certainly generates more energy in the room. There are at least two simple techniques I have seen that are effective:

Recognize the person who introduced you or someone who has done a great job in setting up the event and ask the audience to give a warm appreciative applause. This person can be anyone — from a meeting planner all the way to the CEO. If they are truly someone who deserves a little thanks for their efforts, the audience enjoys providing it. I have used this technique and added some lighthearted exaggeration on top by saying the person who introduced me was also here at 5 a.m. mixing up the incredible cheesecake we all just enjoyed.

The other technique is to ask your audience to stand and stretch, stand and say hello to their neighbor, or just stand. Asking them to do something like this at the beginning of your presentation can be a little disruptive but if you need a transfer of energy, a quick physical activity may be just the thing.

Get them talking. A trick I borrowed from the brilliant presenters John Maxwell and Les Brown is to get your audience talking to each other. At various points throughout his presentation John Maxwell often asks his audience members to turn to the person next to them and make a humorous comment on something he just said.

A opening tip I learned from Les Brown is to ask the audience to turn to the person next to them and say “Good Morning! You look spectacular today!” Then have the other person return the compliment with, “I know. You are looking pretty awesome as well!” This never fails to be a great ice breaker and energy booster.

The only downside to these techniques is a bit of chaos that is created. You may need to let the room settle down before you continue. The chances are, however, that you have cured that low energy funk and primed everyone for your spectacular power presentation.

Tom Nixon has over 3 decades of experience assisting clients with meaningful business communications. Contact Tom to see how he can work with your business leaders and subject matter experts to create stunning visual presentations (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.) and enhance their on-stage delivery.