Michael Bungay Stanier


Don't Be Afraid to Break the Rules: How to Engage Your Audience

Key Takeaways

On little things that make a big difference:

If you’re running a workshop where is the screen relative to the audience? Of course, most people put them right in the middle of the room and what that does is it makes the slides the hero. You don't want your slides to be the hero. You want to be the hero, so what I would suggest is you put your screen to the right of the audience. To the audience's left, to my right, because that's the safest place for the audience to read and it also means that you get to take center stage and to use your slides as the prop and the support that they should be in your talks. Just a little thing about where you put your screen can make quite a difference in terms of the impact you have as a speaker and as a facilitator.

On creating a presentation:

The way a lot of people start designing an event is they crank open their computer, open up PowerPoint or Keynote or some sort of slide-based thing and they start building a presentation based on the slides. I think that's a disaster because immediately you're getting sucked into the PowerPoint maw of death. It's the last thing you want. For me, I'm always thinking about, "What's the arc of the experience I want people to go through? What do I want them to learn and where do I want them to end up?"

On why less is more:

First of all, almost everybody tries to put too much stuff in. They’re like, “This is how I’m adding value. I’m providing content.” Now, honestly, do you think people have too little content in their lives? Seriously, when you stop and think about it, really? They don’t have enough stuff? Of course, they’ve got too much stuff.

Really the most courageous thing you can do as a designer of an event is to go, “What’s the least I can teach them and what’s a way of having them truly engage in the experience and engage in the content so they actually start to learn it and practice it and get it in their bones and maybe actually have it become part of a behavior of theirs?” Particularly if you’re dealing with any of the kind of softer skills rather than teaching people technically, technical skills, then less rather than more is really important.

On the difference between a good and a great speaker:

It’s a willingness to give up control to your audience. Here’s the thing. When we come with any anxiety to a meeting, presentation, facilitation, whatever it is, there’s a sense of, “Let me maintain control because that’s going to make me feel a whole lot more comfortable and more like nothing’s going to buffet my world.”

The ability to give control over to your audience so that they feel engaged and connected and a degree of autonomy and they’re not having a meeting done to them or the presentation done to them and that they’re not just passive recipients.

This sense about going, “I’m going to give up some of my control, my power, my status and give it to you as the audience,” is part of what I think can really influence the impact that you have.

I’m actually spending a lot of time trying to lower my status a little bit, so that I can increase the status of the people in the room and the rank of the people in the room, so that they will stay more engaged with me in the content. It’s counterintuitive, but the more you give them power and control, the more engaged and connected they’ll actually be with you.

On introductions:

Well, the first thing I try and do is I try and get the person who’s introduced to me not to read a formal, slightly boring bio because what that does is it had a combination of both intimidating people and boring people at the same time. It’s like I’ve written this book and I was this type of person. I invented the cure for AIDS and I’ve translated my first three books into Mandarin Chinese.

Well good for you mate. You know what, we don’t care actually. There’s something about if you’re being introduced, find a way to have the audience laugh at you or laugh with you because actually when they laugh with you that’s an immediately balancing of rank and status because they go, “Oh, he’s normal.”

My goal is seriously to get people on their feet and talking to somebody within two or three minutes of me starting. I always do a little check in at the start of my sessions and my check-ins are actually a question to the people in the room to go, “How are you showing up?” I will ask them these questions and these are the four questions that I ask. One a scale of one to seven, how active and engaged do you plan to be during the next X period of time? One, not at all, seven, totally active and engaged? One a scale of one to seven, how much risk are you prepared to take? One, not at all, seven, I plan to take off all my clothes and run around naked as soon as you give me the word around that?

What's inside the magic facilitator's kit:

I have my magic facilitator's kit, which I take everywhere I go whenever I’m running a meeting. There are a few things I have in there, which I’ll show you.

I always have index cards because if everything fails you can make cool stuff happen with index cards. Give people pens. Give them an index card. Everything can happen with an index card. As a result, I always carry Sharpies with me, and a big Sharpie because if I’m using a flip chart. I’ve got masking tape or painter’s tape that I can stick anything on walls with this and I can use stuff with index cards.

I have – this is a little clock, a handheld clock.That I carry around so I can track. If I go, “You’ve got 3 minutes to have 12 ideas,” I can track the timing around that.

I’ve got – and this is how I get people’s attention Tibetan bells. What I do is when I want people’s attention I chime my bells. Now, I know as a yogi you’re already straightening your spine and starting to breathe through your nose and picking a place of bliss that the rest of us can only dream of. I’m not that sophisticated, but I find this is a whole lot better than just yelling at people, “Oy, shut up. Hello? Pay attention to me.”

Here’s one of the counterintuitive measures of success as a facilitator. The more people are ignoring you, the more likelihood you’re actually being successful because they’re engaged with themselves and they’re engaged with the material. That bell is a nice way to annoyingly, persistent way, to gently call people back.

On how to show up:

I have a little device I call my this, not that list, which is a way I try to remember what I’m like at my best and to help me get back to that. This is what it looks like. I’ll just hold it up to people.

Being natural and showing up, I’m aware of what it looks like and that’s why I use that because there are times when I’m not doing that. I go, “Get back to that.” It’s not a totally learned behavior because it’s an amplification of who I am, but I practice reconnecting to who that person is.

 What does it mean to speak like a pro?

It means to fully service your audience so that you're putting their needs in front of your needs.

Top Tips and Resources:

Well, I think part of it is just come to any talks or meetings or facilitated sessions you’re in and watch and go, “This is what I like. This is what I don’t like,” because that’s what everybody doesn’t like and that’s what everybody likes. So many people go, “I sit through these meetings that suck,” and then they run a meeting and it’s exactly the same because they don’t do anything differently.

Part of it is it’s already a resource. It’s a state of mind to go, “Be constantly looking for what you can take, use, adapt or what you can look to avoid.”

As a very simple tactic, I’m often going, “Okay, rather than me having a whole bunch of slides, which I control and I present, what if I took the four key things I want to show people, blow them up into poster size, stick them around the room and say to everybody we’re going to spend the first 15 minutes just wandering around reading what’s on the posters. Here are some post-it notes. Stick your questions or comments or whatever on the posters and then we’ll have a discussion about them”?

You can see how I’ve made it more interesting and more engaging. I’ve given the group more responsibility. I’ve given up power and control myself because I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I’m giving myself a better chance that this will be a group that shows up differently.

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