In the past I’ve written about the need to understand who your audience is when you give a talk at Lodge (or anywhere else for that matter). You need to be aware of what they do and do not know, and the depth of the knowledge that they do have. You want to make sure you are all on the same page.
In addition to the above, you also need to understand that just because you took the time to understand your audience, completed your research, and included relevant quotes, stories, and citations, you just can’t read the paper.
That’s right, you just can’t walk up, take out your speech or paper, read it and then sit down. The challenge at that point is to make sure your audience is engaged.
That doesn’t mean wait until the end of the presentation to ask for comments or questions. I’m sure that there are many out there who, like myself, have seen far too often a request for those comments go unanswered. It’s not typically because no one has something to say, but more likely that no one wants to be first or no one feels comfortable standing and asking the question.
So it falls to the presenter to work to engage the audience.
The very first thing you can do is know your material. Yes, I know that you wrote it but do you know it? Having the material in front of you is fine but can you go off on a relevant tangent and then come back to the topic at hand?
You also need to look at your audience. I’ve noticed this many times, the presenter stands there and simply reads the material. The issue here is that they’re not connecting with those they’re speaking to. How would you know that there’s a question or comment while you’re presenting if you’re constantly looking down?
Also, don’t wait until the end to engage your audience, you want then involved before you get to your question and answer section. As an example, in a past talk I did a simple poll, “How many of you own a Masonic ring?” It’s was relevant to the topic I was speaking about and it got folks involved right away. I continued on with that same technique throughout the presentation and asked additional polling questions. Everyone became more comfortable and more willing to share as the night progressed which allowed for some good discussion at the end.
Finally, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” You might even want to say it up front, “I’m sure there will be things I miss, please let me know so I can learn something this evening as well,” is a great ice breaker. There are many who will respect you more for admitting you don’t know something than giving them an answer that isn’t sincere or worse, determined to be incorrect later.
So please, before you just read the paper in front of you, know that you’re not educating us that way. In fact, you’re likely putting us to sleep.