That past 12 years of professional speaking have taught me something invaluable that I never expected to learn about audiences.
Your connection to them often comes from what you didn’t plan to do or say
Spontaneity Sparks Speaking Success
Surely you can connect with your planned content. However, audience members love to feel like this is not just another cookie-cutter speech that you are giving and that some of what is happening hasn’t happened anywhere else. Spontaneous moments provide this satisfaction.
By jumping on the spontaneous moments, you will…
- Deepen your connection
- generate an eruption of humor
- Turn some of your audience members into the stars of your speech
- Get more buy-in for your message because “People buy into what they help create,” and your audience helps to create this speech
- Give your audience members something fun to refer to days and months later
- Lift the energy
- Refresh you as the speaker because it feels new and magical for you too!
Why don’t more speakers use spontaneity?
With so many benefits to having spontaneity, what keeps most speakers from taking advantage of these potential speech-changing moments?
Answer: Trust and time.
Trust: They don’t trust themselves to be able to leave their planned content, jump on the spontaneous moments, and then seamlessly return to continue their points. You must be willing to leave your mental script and take a chance without knowing exactly where it will take you.
Time: They don’t allow enough time and space within their content to milk these wonderful moments. If you’re called to do a 45-minute engagement, you should not plan for 45 minutes of content. Instead, plan for 35-40 minutes for a couple of reasons.
- First, it will take a few minutes for people to settle into the venue and for your introducer to introduce you.
- Next, you cannot connect with your audience when you are rushing through your material. If you plan to fill up the entire 45 minutes with your content, you WILL be rushing and there will be no room to even look for spontaneity. Remember the old speaker proverb: When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.
- Finally, it’s perfectly fine to end a few minutes early whereas it’s often disastrous to end a few minutes late. The balance you want to strike is to give them great content and leave them wanting more. Only when you provide space for these moments, will they arise and present themselves as tremendous opportunities.
Move towards, not away from, these opportunities
Example #1: Sometimes you can bring audience members on stage to help make a point and realize there is a potential for some humorous, spontaneous moments. Here’s an example that comes from a public speaking workshop I did last month in Sri Lanka. I brought someone up on stage who told a story about how he and his friend hid behind a bush as they watched their teacher walk by a pool. Then they decided to run out and push this teacher into the pool. As I worked with this participant’s story, I received my own surprise about his friend. Listen to how it went (68 seconds)[audio:https://craigvalentine.com/wp-content/uploads/SriLanka.mp3|titles=Sri Lanka]
That was just the tip of the iceberg of the spontaneity that happened with that participant. Still, it lifted the energy of the audience, provided humor, and made him the star. People are still e-mailing me about that moment a month later.
Example #2: Other times audience members will do something or say something that you can address. For example, let’s take a workshop I did two days ago for the enrollment staff at a University. I facilitated and activity in which the participants were to get into groups of three and make triangles. Usually they draw these triangles on paper. However, one participant claimed to have made several triangles but none were on paper and I couldn’t quite grasp her explanation or see any of her triangles. Now, you can’t see what I’m doing, but you can still pick up the flavor of our interaction based on the response of the other audience members. Listen to this (86 seconds).
[audio:https://craigvalentine.com/wp-content/uploads/Triangles.mp3|titles=University Example ]
Just in case you’re wondering, I was doing several physical moves and turns on stage and calling them “triangles.” The key is it was all in fun and she, at least for the time being, became the star of that moment. But the other key was knowing this was a two hour workshop and allowing myself not to fill the entire two hours with content. In other words, I left time for spontaneity and interaction. As a result, it lifted the energy, provided a tremendous amount of humor, and made her star.
Example #3: Here’s one more example that happened to me many years ago. While speaking to a group of probation officers, I began my dramatic closing story about a devastating moment in my childhood. Needless to say, I didn’t get the reaction I imagined. However, I did milk the reaction (spontaneous moment) I got. Instead of running away from or ignoring the moment, I ran to it. Here’s how it went (2 minutes):
So there you have it. Now you know what these wonderful magical spontaneous moments can do for you and you know that Trust and Time are what you need to take advantage of them.
In your next (non-contest) speech, I challenge you to have at least one spontaneous moment that you jump on and milk to see where it takes you. When you do, feel free to send me a comment in this blog entry describing the moment so I (and others) can enjoy it too! Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing from you.
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