Closing the gap of familiarity between yourself and your audience is important and can make the psychological difference between their buy-in and rejection of your message. Use these simple guidelines to get a better grasp on this slippery dynamic, so that you can winyour audience over up-front:
Humour doesn’t mean telling a joke.
Does that sound contradictory? In fact, the weakest brand of humour in a presentation scenario is resorting to the “guywalks into a bar…” routine. It sounds belaboured and takes long to tell. What’smore, it is usually not relevant to your message and will rarely elicit morethan a polite snicker. Simple one-liners are more efficient andmore effective. And almost anything will suffice, such as, “Please excuse metaking so long to walk up here. Yesterday I learnt that if you’re running on atreadmill, you shouldn’t turn sideways to shake someone’s hand.”
Thebest humour is aimed at yourself.
It is frighteningly easy to insult anaudience, thus predisposing members against your message. In a presentation on the topic of fear, I once witnessed a presenter describing the part of the brain responsible for controlling nerves. Attempting to throw in a little humour, he quipped, “…And that’s where the brain connects to the spine, and I hope you all have spines!” It was tactless and abrasive. If you must pick on someone for humour-value, pick on yourself. Audiences respond well to that kind of humility and will warm to you.
Humour isn’t the only way to break the ice.
If you struggle with humour, use a different technique entirely. Build familiarity by mentioning things you have in common with the audience. The material from which you can draw is endless; from the traffic that everyone sat in that morning, to the latest newspaper headlines, to the meal served at lunch-time.You can also draw audiences closer by discussing common wants and needs. Include yourself as part of the group, using language such as, “We all want that kind of productivity in our companies…”
You could even relate a quick, poignant personal story that taught you a lesson – provided the lesson is in line with the message of your presentation. Lazarus Zim, CEO of Anglo American, does this regularly, relating how he grew up in a small village far from Johannesburg.Your story needn’t be that dramatic – an interesting anecdote will suffice.
Above all, show your humanity.
In the first few moments of any presentation, people are evaluating your integrity and believability. The more “real” and sincere a persona you portray, the better. This doesn’t mean lowering your professional standards, or being inaudibly soft-spoken. It simply means being confident enough to let down your guard, drop the veneer and let your humanity shine through.