Creating Sizzling Audiences: From Essential Sparks To Combustible Motivation

And I Thought Yesterday Was Hot!

Imagine for a moment that you’re preparing for a presentation for an upcoming conference.

Close your eyes and visualize that your audience appears to be actually sizzling in their seats with enthusiasm. They are on fire for your words.

Now imagine you have that same experience every time you present.

Creating Audience Combustible Motivation

This vision is not unrealistic.

You can create experiences that foster audiences with combustible motivation!


By eliminating the primary barriers to audience involvement and participation:

  1. Threat
  2. Increased Stress

The Brain’s Default Is Survival

Your brain’s default system is survival. Whenever your brain perceives something as a threat, its basic primitive nature of survival overrides whatever you’re doing.

It reacts with a fight or flight syndrome which releases excessive cortisol and adrenalin into your system. These flood the brain and derail the natural thinking processes. Normal logic and thinking skills take a back seat to the survival.

These physiological changes create more predictable, knee-jerk responses. We react to stimuli in an anxious, phobic way.

Threats, excess anxiety, moderate negative stress and induced learner helplessness (too much information or too much negative information without practical takeaways) create an emotional hijack of the brain. Basic survival always overrides higher order thinking skills in these situations. Normal thinking goes out the window and learning decreases.

Three Types Of Threats

There are three typical types of threats that can decrease spontaneous motivation:

  1. Bodily Injury – threat of being physically harmed
  2. Intellectual Injury – feeling helpless, over challenged, underprepared, ignored, lacking skills, prolonged stress, needing additional resources
  3. Emotional Injury – embarrassed, publicly humiliated, disciplined, shamed, disgraced, insecure, laughed at, failure

Ten Tips For Creating Low-Threat Presentation Environments

What is perceived as threatening to one person many not be to another. Your challenge as a presenter is to eliminate as many triggers as possible.

Here are 10 techniques used by the best presenters to create low-threatening environments and ideal learning experiences. Many of them will sound like common sense. Today’s research shows that we have biological evidence that reinforces their importance.

  1. Allow participants to introduce themselves to people that they are sitting beside.
  2. Set the stage with an audience-presenter agreement and ground rules.
  3. Declare the presentation a safe space to agree, disagree, ponder and question.
  4. Empathize with your audience. Let them know you care about their feelings, challenges and particular circumstances.
  5. Answer the attendee’s question of “What’s In If For Me?”
  6. Never call-on a participant to speak or perform to the group unless they volunteer or have been given time to prepare.
  7. Never ridicule, tease or embarrass a participant.
  8. Never mock a culture, language, race, lifestyle, religion or attire.
  9. Avoid labels or stereotypes.
  10. Use common courtesy phrases like please, thank-you and excuse me.

Creating Rapport That Leads To Combustible Motivation

Rapport is often thought of as a mysterious chemistry between an audience and a presenter. Good rapport is a distinct physiological state of positive responsiveness. It happens when the audience feels less threatened and identifies with the presenter.

With rapport, a presenter can lead an audience anywhere. The audience has combustible motivation, sizzling in their seats.

Without it, the presenter is ineffective and the audience is frustrated.

What are some things presenters often do that trigger a perceived threat and emotional hijack? What are some things you’ve seen good presenters do to gain rapport and audience engagement?

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  1. Number 6 really rings for me–after having experienced it myself, I can tell you it’ll get your fight-or-flight response going big time!

    Anyway, one thing I really dislike is being asked to raise my hand to ask a question. Kind of puts the audience in a grade-schooler position. I haven’t seen many do it, but using social media or texting or even just passing up a note to ask questions may be a more humane (for us introverts) way to go. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the whole Q&A concept in a lot of cases, but I’m not sure what would generate a more genuine type of speaker/audience interaction without bogging it down.

    Also just getting off the stage and speaking with people eye-to-eye can make a difference, I think.

    One interesting thing I saw some presenters do in a smallish session was to have everyone in the audience say what their favorite charity was. It didn’t really work because it took so much time, but you wouldn’t believe the change in the feel of the room.

    The way presenters introduce themselves also can make a difference. Do they intro themselves, or have someone else read a laundry list of their titles and accomplishments? Do they seem engaged and glad to be there, or just going through the motions? Do they have anything in common with the audience? That all makes a difference.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I’m with you. #6 can set me off as well. I’m a natural introvert so whenever I’m put on the spot without prior knowledge or being asked, my emotions take over. You mentioned some great ways to handle this instead. Sometimes, it’s as easy as “talk to your neighbor” or “ask them your burning question” and proceed from there.

      Thanks for reading and commenting as always Sue. We greatly appreciate it.

  2. I like reading a post that can make men and women think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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