November 18, 2011 by Jeff Hurt
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.
This vision is not unrealistic.
You can create experiences that foster combustible motivation in your audience!
How? By eliminating the two primary barriers to audience involvement and participation:
Your brain’s default system is survival. Whenever your brain imagines a threat, its basic primitive nature overrides whatever you’re doing.
It reacts with a fight or flight syndrome. And that reaction releases excessive cortisol and adrenalin into your system.
The release of these chemicals causes normal logic and thinking skills to take a back seat to survival. These physiological changes cause more predictable, knee-jerk responses. It also inhibits the brain’s ability to learn and think.
Threats, excessive anxiety, moderate negative stress and induced learner helplessness (too much information or too much negative content without ways to resolve those challenges) create an emotional highjack of the brain. Basic survival always overrides higher order thinking skills.
We each sense threats differently. Your challenge as a presenter is to eliminate any triggers that may cause your attendees to perceive a threat. Even if the threat is imaginary. The brain doesn’t recognize the difference between real and imagined threats.
Three types of threats decrease an audience’s spontaneous motivation:
The threat of being physically harmed. Unless you are Gallagher, you don’t have to worry too much about your audience sensing that they might be hurt during your presentation.
A feeling of being helpless, over challenged, under-prepared, ignored, lacking in skills, prolonged stress, or needing additional resources. This is a real threat that can occur during your presentation, especially if you overwhelm your audience with too much information, jargon or data. Likewise, if you approach your topic from a negative angle, be prepared for many audience members to have an emotional hijack with a sense of hopelessness.
A perceived threat of being embarrassed, publicly humiliated, disciplined, shamed, disgraced, insecure, laughed at or failure. If you call on audience members unexpectedly to answer a question or ask them to do something in front of the group, some may perceive it as a threat and have an emotional hijack. The best thing to do is to always ask for volunteers and give people time to think of responses before putting them on the spot.
Your presentation should create a low-threat environment so that you attendees feel safe and learn. Setting ground rules is critical so everyone understands what is expected of them.
If one of your goals is audience participation, start with low-risk activities and interactions. This is as simple as asking participants to introduce themselves to the person on their right and left and tell them what they expect from the session.
Once you’ve done some low-risk activities, you can slowly engage participants into more complex and higher risk activities.
What are some ways presenters can create a low-threat environment? What do presenters do that triggers an emotional hijack of your brain?
Filed Under: Speaker Coaching
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