Communicating as a Leader

Wake Up Your Audience

Terry Gault asked:

Why do you make presentations? Is it your idea? An assignment? A necessity? Part of your job? Of course there must be a reason for each presentation: to sell…to educate…to motivate. But to what kind of audience? To your boss? To an audience of a thousand people? Or maybe to one very important client? (But aren’t all clients important?) How many of us would choose to stand up in front of people without a reason? Well, some might, but the majority of us would not. Speaking in public is listed as one of the top ten fears of most people. So not only is making a presentation potentially fearful, but once past that, you have to make it a good one for effective results. And a good presentation cannot be considered good if the audience is bored. So how do we get their attention? How do we wake them up?

The people seated in front of you may be mentally slumbering in their chair before you’re halfway through. If they think they know or even guess what you’re about to say, they lose focus, skip ahead, plan their next client meeting or what they’re having for lunch. All of our minds in this fast-moving contemporary society of ours are full of meaningless and meaningful data. Your job is to get and to keep the audience’s attention. To wake them up. Here are some specific ways to do this as well as a few creative ideas.


Take advantage of one of our natural human inclinations: the DNA code that forces humans to pay heed to any sharp movement within our field of vision. Imagine a grazing zebra when it spots the buff-colored mane of a lion. Its sympathetic nervous system kicks in and the zebra starts to run. The primitive species that didn’t pay attention are gone for good. This is not to suggest startling your audience into stampeding out of the room. No, just activate that DNA code with some sort of movement. You’re not a statue; don’t stand as still as one.

Explore the full range of physical expressiveness. Move your entire body from one place to another, across the stage, standing up, bending over, spinning around. Gesture with your hands, even feet? while remaining in the same location. Increase the speed, range and variety of your movement; it creates an impression of vigor and excitement.


Gestures, a form of body language or non-verbal communication, are a major component of human life. In some societies, gestures are used to initiate a mating ritual. Religious and spiritual gestures are also commonly known, such as the Catholic sign of the cross. We communicate daily with all kinds of gestures; whether hailing a taxi or blowing a kiss, the universal meaning of many gestures is understood quickly and accurately. As gestures are so easily understood, in many cultures, what we do with our hands may even replace words.

Our instinct tells us to trust body language more than words. Early on we learn that body language often communicates more honestly than words. Having a serious conversation with someone whose arms are crossed or whose eyes do not contact yours might leave room for doubt about the speaker’s sincerity. If you as a speaker do not match your body language with your words, how much will the audience pay attention and/or believe what you’re saying?

We’ve all had this experience: You’re talking to someone about an important topic. How does their message and/or conversation come across if during an important point, they look away or yawn. What if they start shaking? Blush? Keep blinking as if to keep themselves awake?

As a speaker, it is imperative to match your words with your body. Lean forward to be sincere. Raise your arms to express joy. Pound on the podium to make your point. Follow your own instincts and do what expresses your message the most.


Often the most important movements can be its complete absence. Calm, powerful stillness. Unfocused movement such as rocking back and forth, shifting, repetitive hand gestures or finger fidgeting decreases your power and credibility and can distract the audience from your message. When you’re not making a gesture or movement that supports your presentation, choose stillness. When you can stand still in silence, with self-confidence, the audience interprets this as power and control. Just don’t do it for very long.


-Catch the audience off guard by inviting them to participate.

-Employ a dramatic gesture at an unexpected moment.

-Make a loud sound by clapping, stomping a foot, slapping the table or making an unexpected sound with your voice.

-Tease the audience.

-Reveal an interesting prop or use an object in the room in an unusual way.

-Stop and be silent.


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