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Be A Sherpa, Ringmaster, Interviewer, Storyteller & Motivator Onstage!

Anybody who has ever darkened the doors of a college classroom knows why the larger ones are called Lecture Halls and not Discussion Dens. In a twist of irony, the intent is to teach by talking when, in fact, learning would take place more meaningfully if the setting allowed for more back-and-forth dialogue and lively interaction.

Of course, when there are 200-300 students present, you can’t simply strike up a  friendly chat with all but you absolutely can infuse elements of conversation and engagement that communicate more profoundly and are more likely to produce results. The same is true for corporate meetings and events.

Even the very word “lecture” is a bit off-putting as it takes you back to days of being disciplined by a parent after a childhood transgression, or of nodding off in school while the “talking head” professor drones on and the clock seems to tick at an extraordinarily slow rate. (“Beuller …? Bueller …? Bueller …?” comes to mind.)

All too often, the same “blah” dynamic is in place when there are large gatherings of corporate groups. We may call them “presenters” but who’s to say they’re not just more lecturers or droning professors? You can do something about that. Here are some tips that will help you create a more effective connection with your audience … and increase the chances of reaching goals and achieving desired successful outcomes.

Ditch the title “Speaker” … you’re so much better than that!

Think of yourself as equal parts Sherpa, Ringmaster, Interviewer, Storyteller and Motivator. Your role is to guide, coordinate, learn, entertain, and inspire. (All for the purpose of producing measurable results.) And you can’t do that by simply talking at people. Instead, find ways to talk with them; pausing to field questions or,Heaven forbid, reverse field and ask questions of the audience.

Let’s take a closer look.

You as Sherpa …

You wouldn’t take on Everest or K2 without the expert guidance of a Sherpa. (No Sherpa, no chance of planting your flag at the summit or maybe even coming home alive.) Like mountain climbers, audiences desire and need to be led. They don’t want a simple “Follow me”, they are trusting you, as Sherpa, to explain the why and how of where you’re headed, what you’ll encounter along the way, and how you can deal with challenges. And most importantly, they want to clearly understand the ultimate destination, the end-prize, the benchmark of success … and the personal rewards that come with that.

Answer their questions, openly address their concerns, give them feedback along the way, and tell them exactly what success will look like. Finally, articulate the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) and they’ll be happy to fall in step and allow you to guide them with 100% trust and confidence.

You as Ringmaster …

Effective learning and achieving desired outcomes (together) involves a lot of players and a lot of moving parts. There’s the rollout of information, training and practice, coaching sessions, periodic success measurement to determine progress against goals and objectives, and the need for recognition and reward. You, as Ringmaster, are there to ensure all three rings (or in this case, five) are humming and factored into your presentation(s). The world of business has always moved fast but today’s biz world only knows one formula: Lightspeed x Warp Speed = Success.

Time is money and money is the objective.

You can effectively orchestrate and coordinate the delivery of critical information and all other ancillary priorities by finding ways to engage and connect from the stage – whether it’s mini two-way Q&A sessions; putting mics on the floor; building in “timeouts” or doing periodic “temperature checks” for audience assessment; allowing time for reflection, clarification and processing of information; utilizing audience-response technology, etc. It’s critically important they get the comprehensive picture. You’re the Ringmaster and the show must go on!

You as Interviewer (and Interviewee, BTW)  …

Put your presentation in neutral at periodic intervals and say, “OK, I want to take four questions from the floor before I go on” then do it. This allows people to clarify what might be a bit fuzzy or to speak up about a legitimate concern that you may or may not have the answer to. It’s OK to show them you don’t have all the answers but you’ll get them – or invite them to help you get them.

And here’s where you flip the traditional Q&A model on its head.

Go beyond just opening the floor to questions by opening yourself up and being vulnerable, when appropriate. You ask the audience questions and invite them to answer. Then wait long enough for the answers to start. A study of academic presenters indicated teachers often ask students a question then give them the answer an average of 1.5 seconds later. Those who paused and waited 3-4 seconds were 300-600% more likely to not only receive responses but quality responses. Onstage pauses can feel like an eternity when you’re the presenter but the wait is worth it.

You can also mitigate the timid reluctance of shyer audience members. They often sit silently for fear of sounding foolish or somehow embarrassing themselves in front of their peers and leadership and allow others to ask questions or deliver feedback. Early in your presentation, pose a harmless “warm-up question”. If your group size is manageable, ask each audience member to stand and, in a sentence or two, reveal what they’re most passionate about at work and at home. If it’s a large group, you can call on a handful of individuals and ask them to stand and respond.

This accomplishes two things: 1) You learn a little bit more about each person, and 2) you create opportunities to make linkages to important points you’ll be making. “John, you mentioned earlier that you love to work on engines in your free time. You can understand the concept of many moving parts and how they have to work together, right?”

When theshy types see nobody gets hurt in this type of friendly exchange, they’re more likely to join in. And the audience, in general, is more engaged because they know they might be the next person mentioned from the stage.

Google is well-known for its be-productive-but-don’t-burn-yourself-out culture, as well as being an organization in which two-way interaction and shared viewpoints are not only requested, they’re encouraged and expected on a daily basis. This type of workplace provides personal validation that your perspective matters and your suggestions or concerns are being heard. It also fosters mutual respect and enhances collaboration. Be that kind of person onstage to your audience.

You as Storyteller …

Information is tiring, extremely tiring, for audiences. Simultaneously, they must sit and listen, work to understand, try to memorize critical data, and determine how to apply it to their role in the organization. That’s exhausting!

Structure your presentation into chunks of information followed by stories and examples that illustrate and illuminate your point(s). Even cavemen understood time around the campfire telling stories was the best way to share information. Nothing has changed. Relevant stories, anecdotes, memories and parables engage the mind’s eye and, suddenly, you’ve got whole-brain listening going on which is way more powerful than simple, left-brain-only intellectual interpretation.

Sean D’Souza, the author of The Brain Audit and founder of, recommends the PRO approach to storytelling – Pain, Response, Outcome. Pull from your bank of memories and experiences and articulate the challenge first, how it was handled, and how you found your way to “happily ever after”. Alternatively, you can reveal the “happily ever after” then backtrack through the story to help bring an important point to life. Just be sure the yarn you’re spinning is relevant (or you’ll leave the audience scratching their heads trying to make a connection).

You as Motivator

Effort without passion is a wasted exercise. And the best way to get people enthusiastic, inspired and personally invested is to tell them about the “goal(d)” at the end of the rainbow and how much is theirs if they get there. It may be monetary in nature, a President’s Club trip, or some other reward, it doesn’t matter. If there are career doors that will open within the organization by achieving stated goals and objectives, talk about those, too, and romance what future opportunities will look like. Many audiences, especially sales group, leave corporate meetings and events fired up but the enthusiasm quickly passes. If you’re able to dangle a truly alluring carrot before them, that enthusiasm and motivation will sustain itself well beyond the meeting’s adjournment.

The Good Lord may have only given you one head but he never said you couldn’t wear many hats. So take that stage and be the finest Sherpa, Ringmaster, Interviewer, Storyteller and Motivator your audience has ever known!

Ditch the word “speaker” … you’re so much better than that!


Kenneth Jones