How to Keep People Awake During Meetings

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Meetings don't need to be mind-numbing. Speakers fail for a reason and certain strategies can make speeches great.
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No one wants to be boring, and yet how often do you find yourself pinching yourself during a speech trying to stay awake?

Perhaps the reason for bad presentations is because speaking in public is one of our biggest fears, right up there with death. We can be so scared of giving a bad talk, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But done right, even the smallest of speeches, even the weekly check-in with your boss, can "change the world, even if just a little bit," according to Nick Morgan, the president and founder of Public Words, a company that helps people tell their stories. He's also the author of Power Cues and is featured in the Harvard Business Review article, "How to Give a Stellar Presentation."

He's studied what makes speeches good, and just as importantly, what makes them bad. He said there are some sure fire ways to make a speech boring:

  1. Start With a List: If you want to lose your audience at the very start, lead with a laundry list of things you'll cover. When you're speaking out loud, people don't connect to lists. Give them a reason to care first.
  2. Let In Your Nervous Filler: If you want to lose listeners, waste their time with niceties, coughs, and bad jokes.
  3. Shrug When You're Selling: If your body language is inconsistent with the things you're saying, people won't buy in to your message.

Morgan says before you start a speech, you have to understand where your performance anxiety comes from. He says the reason speakers make all these mistakes is because they often set a standard for themselves that just isn't achievable. So they're humiliated before they even begin. Nerves let filler take the place of genuine communication. 

Morgan says for big speeches, the solution is to use a personal story to hold the parts of your talk together. Get people emotionally invested by taking them on a journey with you. 

But you can't make every little speech a story. It gets old. In day-to-day business meetings, Morgan says the solution to mediocrity and monotony is very simple. All you need to do is spend a few minutes before the talk focusing on the emotions you want to convey. Too often, people enter a meeting with a to-do list in mind instead of a desire to motivate. When your body language and tone evoke emotion, it makes a meeting hum with energy.