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Ask the Audience to Experience Your Message Directly
Just three years after Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev gave a candid speech decrying the dictator’s reign, detailing the political massacres, the torture of children, and the spread of terror Stalin inflicted on the Russian people.
During the speech, a heckler in the crowd shouted out, “You were there. Why didn’t you stop him?” Khrushchev stopped, looked out into the audience, and said boldly, “Who said that?” Silence filled the hall. He asked again, demanding to know the source. “Who said that?” No hand went up. No one moved or said a word. Khrushchev looked at many faces in the audience and quietly said, “Now you know why we didn’t do anything.”
Instead of telling the audience about the emotions he felt, Khrushchev did something great presenters do when they can. He asked the audience to share the emotion or experience with him. When a speaker or presenter asks the audience to directly experience a critical point, they capture attention in a massively powerful way.
Questions that demand an answer, short activities that involve the audience, and props that require audience engagement are all ways speakers demonstrate, rather than merely describe, an emotion, insight, or experience.
Asking audience members to stand and complete a task (such as point to True North) or turn to the person sitting next to them and engage in a brief activity (such as examining how they make a fist) can make a message come alive. When audiences are asked to complete a task with a prop, such as a piece of rope or rubber band, they become immersed in the message rather than passively consume it. Of course, the request and activity must connect powerfully to the point being made.
While not all presentations can include a demonstrative device, when possible, speakers should consider what message points would be best made through direct experience. If the demonstration is not hokey or frivolous, the audience will become much more engaged with the presentation and potentially internalize the message. This creates a connection with the speaker and the message which is hard to replicate any other way.
Asking an audience to feel or experience the emotion or message directly is yet one more example of how showing and not telling creates the deepest learning.