Command the attention of those around you
Proximo said, “Learn from me. I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crown, and you’ll win your freedom.”
Perhaps not a true story (great film though), but the message rings true – it’s important to win the appeal of those around you in order to influence them. Think about how often you attempt to influence others. Do you try to ever try to influence your partner, get a peer to take on a task, sell something to a random person, convince an interview panel, or give a speech? We do it all the time.
Many of us know the Gladiator tale – Maximus’ adversary, Commodus, could not vanquish his enemy because the crowd (i.e. all of Rome) loved Maximus. If Commodus tried, the crowd would turn against him. Maximus had the backing of the people, and as such, he had power to influence them, and power to influence the entire situation.
In my experience, very few people think about or reflect upon how to win over their audience and communicate with more influence. And, because they’re not thinking about the importance of appealing to their audience, real opportunities to make an impact go missing. We may not be attempting this in the ancient gladiatorial ring, but perhaps in the modern one in which “winning the crowd” is also important – our workplace, our home, job interview, making a sale, giving a speech… the list is endless.
The real benefit of winning the crowd is that it allows you to build upon your individual power, get your message out there, and have an influence on the world. Your words and how you use them are indicators of whether you’re asserting your individual power, and it allows you to shape the world around you. Too many people don’t take the time to think about their objectives, what they need to say, and how they need to say it in order to have influence.
Looking back at Proximo’s wise words – if Maximus didn’t heed this quote, the crowd may have turned on him and we would have experienced a disappointingly short film
If you want to win any crowd and command the attention of those around you, there are strategies you can apply to improve your skills. Learning to do so is just like learning any other skill. You need to know the right techniques and practice them often, and you need to learn from your mistakes. If we’re going to make the effort, we should look to give ourselves the best chance of “winning the crowd” so that we can make an impact.
Let’s dive in.
When having an important conversation, it is easy to get lost in the hundreds of things you want to say. It is even easier for your listeners to get lost in what you’re saying, which means you lose all ability to win and influence your audience. Think about how many conversations you listen to each day. How often can you remember all of it? Knowing that, with each conversation or each speech, you should aim for your listeners to walk away remembering the one key, core message.
Sticking to a single, core message will lead to create a clear and concise communication. When you are next planning a conversation or speech, start and finish with your core message, and ensure that everything said supports this message.
To win the appeal of those around you, people require a combination of emotion and fact-based arguments.
Our limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, like trust. Appealing to peoples’ emotions like fear, excitement, anger, and happiness can influence the limbic brain to appeal to a certain message. But, in this modern age with information at our fingertips and paranoia at an all-time high, persuasion techniques aren’t helpful if your listeners recognise they’re being manipulated. As such, the “rational brain”, the neocortex, perceives and analyses facts, statistics, case studies, and other information before deciding on a conclusion. The key to getting influencing those around you is directly related to influencing both the limbic brain and neocortex.
We do this by providing the right emotional appeal, and then provide information that supports your emotional appeal. Stories, backed up with info, is great for hitting both the emotional and logical needs of the listener. People can feel emotion and relate with stories by empathising or sympathising with the characters within. It’s often hard to do that with information alone.
Talking too fast when you're nervous or uncomfortable is common. It can tell everyone you’re nervous and lack self-control, and is a sure way to lose the appeal of those listening. On average, speak at a comfortable rate (such as rate when you talk with friends and family) so you have more time to think about what you want to say. It shows confidence and helps those listening to feel more relaxed and engaged.
Varying the speed of your voice is also an effective way to change the drama and mood of the conversation and demonstrate conversational skill. Speed up your words to emphasise drama in action-packed or exciting stories. Slow down through sad stories and key points to reflect the proper mood and add emphasis.
People need time to process what you say before moving on. Pausing is an effective technique to keep your listeners focused on you and your words. It also shows the audience that you are relaxed and confident, giving you more authority. Use long pauses at the end of transitions or paragraphs and short pauses following each sentence. Use a short pause before the climax of a joke or story, before and after very important points, or any point that will have your audience fixed on what you are about to say next. Truly confident speakers that appeal to listeners learn to live with silence and not rush to "fill the gaps" with words.
Pitch and Tone
Great speakers use a conversational tone generally throughout the entire speech, just as you might use when you speak with friends, family, and colleagues. Do your best to avoid a monotonous tone or you will lose the attention of those listening.
An easy approach to targetting different pitch points is playing with diverse emotional content. A sad voice has a different deeper pitch from your general voice, which is further different from a higher-pitched voice for an exciting story. Great speakers have a habit of varying the pitch of their voices in order to convey their emotions in the best possible way. Maintain a consistent, pleasing pitch generally throughout your speech, and use relevant changes in pitch to enhance specific stories.
Vary your volume to emphasise key points or stories. Joy or anger matches a loud voice. On the other hand, sadness or fear aligns better with a quiet voice. If you tend to talk very quietly or loudly, make a special note to focus on your volume. Maintaining a pleasant, consistent volume audience and varying your volume for the points your wish to emphasise will hold the attention and appeal of your listeners.
"Umm", "aah", "like". We use "filler" words to fill the gap in conversation between stimulus (listening) and response (talking). Filler words suggest you are uncertain about what you are saying. Imagine someone using "umm" and "like" every fourth word - not easy to listen to, and it does not convey confidence. This is habit. It may not be something you can fix overnight, but by simply being aware of it and trying to catch yourself when it happens, you will start the process of removing them from your vocabulary and using pausing instead.
Using gestures and movements can win the attention of your listeners by simultaneously elevating the drama of your stories and portraying a relaxed, sincere and natural speaking manner. These actions can be used to add another dimension to key points in your speech, in the interests of conveying correct meaning and connecting with your audience.
A genuine smile will lighten the mood and will hopefully turn your listener’s blank faces into smiling ones. Those listening will see that you are calm, friendly and confident in what you’re saying. Perhaps surprisingly, it may also make you feel more confident when you speak.
Pleasure, pain, sincerity, sarcasm - every feeling can be detected by your audience through your body language. This includes hands and legs as well as facial expressions. Generally, gestures are used to express size, weight, shape, direction and location, and hand gestures can be used to add emphasis and point out an action. Each gesture you use must be expressed in such a way that it is clear to your audience. But, keep them deliberate so that the points don’t seem exaggerated. Keep a general rule in mind - a gesture is good when it helps the audience to understand the speech without drawing the attention on the gestures only.
Clasping hands and fiddling imply tension and nervousness. Folded arms or hands in pockets can suggest a guarded or disinterested demeanour. Good stance and posture say a lot to your audience about how confident you are, even if that is not the case! Distribute your weight evenly across your feet and avoid swaying or changing your stance excessively as these distract your audience from what you’re saying and show a lack of confidence. Lift your chest, roll your shoulders back and relax them. This stand shows power and confidence, which is what you want to project to your listeners.
While speaking, make eye contact with your listeners, first looking directly at one person for a few seconds, then looking at another, so no one feels left out. This staggered style of eye contact suggests confidence and shows your audience that you personally addressing them individually instead of talking at them. Try to direct your attention at everyone so the whole room is engaged. The more you look at your listeners, the more attention you will capture.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough – important conversations or speeches need to be practiced. Look for a safe space where nobody will disturb you as you practice. Rehearse again and again until you are confident and until you are happy with what you are going to say and how it sounds.
Always remember – when having an important conversation or making a speech, people are keen to hear what you have to say. Instead of panicking about the event, change your perspective and think of it as a conversational topic that you talk about with a bunch of friends or colleagues.
You can improve your communication not by worrying about the future, but by arming yourself in preparation for the future. The way to achieving that is through rehearsal.
Memorise what you’re saying
Great speakers speak to the audience, not to their notes. Think about it from the audience's perspective. What looks better - a speaker that looks down reading-out-loud their notes, or looking up and talking at you? The key with notes is to use them as a reminder - looking down at them to check what is next, and then to look back up and speak.
Memorising what you intend to say in a speech or important conversation will help to create a conversational tone and engage your audience more effectively than if reading your notes out loud. If you have a very long speech or have limited time to rehearse, memorising the opening and closing statements will leave a good impression. When you remember the opening section, you may create a "halo effect" on your listeners - their first impression of you is someone who knows what they are talking about, and this impression remains with your listeners through the remainder of the conversation. And, if you are nervous and know your opening, your confidence will build as you move ahead. Similarly, memorised closing statements will leave the same halo effect on your listeners once the conversation has ended.
Learning to win the crowd can help you communicate and influence more effectively on a daily basis, improving relationships, hitting career goals, and getting your messages out into the world. If you want to command the attention of those around you, consistently remembering the importance of appealing to your audience will open up real opportunities to make an impact on your listeners.
Practice these skills and you’ll win your audience time and time again.
For more information and to explore your power to communicate with influence. head to www.speechform.com.au/resources.