Tactics For Captivating Your Audience

May 18, 2011  

I just returned from a fantastic weeklong cruise to the Southern Caribbean and noticed that it was structured similarly to others that I have enjoyed in the past.

Immediately upon arrival, there is much fanfare: champagne as you board; a band rocking out tunes on the pool deck; the captain and crew shaking hands and kissing babies. This is proceeded by an evening chock full of parties and gala events, including a black tie dinner. As the week progresses, the nights seem to be more low key. While there are still planned events, there is little in the way of hoopla. As the cruise nears completion, they pull out all the stops: another black tie dinner; a flaming Baked Alaska parade; headliner performances in the theater; numerous parties and celebrations.

The structure of the cruise got me thinking about a motto we have in the speaking profession: start your speech with your second best story and close with your very best.

Regardless of whether you are running a weeklong cruise experience, delivering a 45-minute keynote speech, selling a product or handling a customer service call, this is a great model for engaging customers. Start powerfully and end on a high note.

This process makes sense. By starting powerfully, you draw in your audience quickly, compelling them to listen. You then close in such a memorable way that they are left wanting more and are inspired to tell their friends. Be sure to create an experience—not just another conversation.

How can you accomplish this for all of your interactions?

First, plan your opening remarks. Don’t just wing it. If you are a speaker, have a compelling story crafted that you can deliver flawlessly each and every time. Or better yet, have several so that you can choose from one that will resonate with your audience. Grab their attention immediately by jumping right into the story. Ditch the “Thank you,” “Hello,” or “It is great to be here in Detroit.”

When crafting your opener, engage your audience. Don’t just speak at them. Use the word “you” more often than “I” or “we.” Patricia Fripp starts her opening story by saying, “I wish you could have been there.” This is an inclusionary tactic that increases engagement while reducing any potential creation of an egocentric view of the speaker. Another effective technique is to ask, “What would you have done in this situation?” This shifts the audiences from spectator to participant. These kinds of inquiries cause them to think, and thus engage.

These same techniques are not exclusive to the speaking world. Instead of just welcoming a customer who is browsing in the electronic section, you could start your dialogue with a fact: “Did you know that more customers buy xyz stereo than any other brand?” But use something more personal in nature.

If you are in a call center, what can you say that will engage the customer within the first second? If you are on site assisting a consumer, how can you build rapport with them instantly?

Once you have a strong opening, you can then engage them in appropriate dialogue about the product or service. This will take as long as necessary.

As you near the end of the customer interaction, close with your best material. Skilled speakers don’t end with “Thank you for your time.” They end with a story that leaves the audience on an emotional high. Give them something they will remember forever and will want to share with their friends. Even if they forget the rest of the speech, it is crucial that they remember the last few minutes.

What can you do to create a powerful closing experience? Is there a story you can tell? Can you make your customers feel uniquely special?My favorite story from the book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive by Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini, is one where waiters were told to give customers mints with the check. This action increased tips slightly. But when the waiter left the check and mints, walked away and returned minutes later giving a few extra mints and saying, “I really like you guys,” the tips went through the roof.

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