The way the audience reacts can often make or break your presentation. I’ve seen dead audiences bring down great presenters and excited audiences make so-so speeches come alive. From my own personal experience as a speaker, I thrive off of audience energy — it’s like a natural high. There’s nothing like the feeling of an audience positively reacting to your speech.
I’ll never forget the first time I experienced this first hand. It was over ten years ago and I was in still in Grad School. My friend Raj and I were tasked with giving a presentation on creating an interactive website (at the time, interactivity on the web was still in its infancy). We were the last group to give a presentation that night. The class, filled primarily with people who had already put in a full day at the office, was supposed to run from 7:30 PM until 9:50 PM and Raj and I didn’t start our talk until 10:10!
To provide a bit more background on the talk, Raj and I had a project that was technically impressive but neither one of us were gifted artists. Every other group had a beautifully designed web page where Raj and I had nothing but text and input boxes. However, our pizzazz was in our presentation.
Our first PowerPoint slide had our names, the title of our presentation and … a picture of Beavis and Butt-head (a popular cartoon that ran on MTV in the mid-90’s). This effectively woke up the audience and got them involved: the question “which one of you is butt-head?” was immediately asked.
The fact that the audience suddenly woke up — they had been asleep for the prior three presentations —energized us and we each delivered a performance of a lifetime with our presentation. It energized us and helped us present better and with more confidence. It picked us up — we were a bit down when we realized that we were the only ones with a dull looking website. So we used this energy and we had them laughing, engaged and entertained.
There are several ways to make a speech more interesting and relevant to the audience. Getting that initial positive reaction can result in a positive cycle where the speaker and the audience are feeding off the positive energy of each other and everyone benefits.