Removing the bricks in the wall: Connecting with your audience.

The wall


Connecting with an audience, having a conversation with them, is not easy – especially if it is a large audience. One thing you can do is to remove the barriers, “the bricks in the wall”, which stand between you and them. Much like a tall center piece makes it difficult to have a conversation with a person across the dining table, physical elements in a meeting room can act like center pieces, like walls, and make it hard to connect with your audience.  Examples of these physical barriers include podiums, tables and distance from the audience.

A while ago I did a presentation in a room that had some “bricks” between the speaker and the audience. My routine pre-presentation check of my slides, videos, and audio went well, but the physical setup of the room was challenging. Anywhere I stood on the stage there was a physical barrier between myself and part of the audience.

Podiums (see the picture above) are particular bad for most speakers, including me; they create a wall. If you are very tall perhaps you may get away with it, but the vast majority of speakers get lost to the audience when they are behind a podium. When I asked the hotel about changing the set up of the room their response was “no”, they really couldn’t. The podium and cables were secured to the stage and they couldn’t move the tables.

They did however provide me with a wireless microphone. This enabled me to stand in the best place I could think of – the floor in front of the stage, which is where I presented from. You need to be seen to be truly “heard” and figuring this out should be part of your preparation. Sometimes you have few options, but as presenters we need to consider how to ensure a connection with the audience.

There can be physical “bricks” that create a wall between you and your audience, make the effort to get rid of as many of them as you can.

Joe Pops



My wife and editor decided to buy this center piece because it was decorative, low and unobtrusive.

centre piece

For example…What can happen when your example isn’t real?

for example

In January of this year I attended a large corporate conference. At this event I heard one of the best inspirational speakers I have ever experienced (more on that later) as well as some less than inspirational (boring) presentations. Conferences are like that.

One presentation had an interesting “for example” moment. I am normally a big fan of using examples during presentations, but this time it bothered me. It took me awhile to figure it out what wasn’t right…and then it finally hit me. The example wasn’t real.

The speaker used a “for example” situation that was hypothetical. It was made up to support the point he was making, but it didn’t fit the real world. It was something I have never experienced in the many years I have been doing my day job.

As a speaker you have to be careful to choose real examples/experiences that will resonate with the audience. The speaker lost credibility with me when he used the unreal example. The word authenticity is used to today when talking about presentations – you want “an authentic audience experience”. The example wasn’t authentic.

The phrase “for example” paints a picture of a future state for your audience, but that picture must be believable and resonate with them. If you use a “for example this could happen” you had better know your audience very well, otherwise you could have just created an “inauthentic” moment and lost your credibility.

Joe Pops


Are you using “shiny happy people” in your slides?

shiny happy peopleA couple months ago I was asked to help some colleagues design and deliver a major presentation for a project at a children’s hospital.  We didn’t have much time to plan our strategy. To get started I did a short email survey asking everyone what they thought the main message/theme of the presentation should be, and I chatted with my colleagues who knew the audience best.   In the end we chose a simple but meaningful theme “It’s about the kids”.

We wanted the presentation visuals to amplify our message.  This turned out to be a challenge. All we could find in our marketing database were images of “shiny happy children”, positioned to show off the healthcare technologies.  Even the most professional stock images are composed versions of reality and (typically) look like stock images. In reality, children are rarely happy in the healthcare environment; health professionals make considerable effort to reduce children’s’ fear and anxiety.

I was pretty sure our audience at the children’s hospital would have seen enough stock images from the groups who presented before us.  We decided to take a different path, and use images of children we knew.  The team was great about volunteering pictures of their own children or grandchildren.  Some of the children of the local team had even been patients at the hospital in which we were presenting.  It was a case of ‘let the medium be the message’ … we had more than just a professional interest in their project.

At the end of the presentation we disclosed who the children were and each team member told a brief story about their picture.  The presentation ended with all of us in the same place: a bunch of people (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) talking about – and connecting over – our kids.  (Note:  for reasons of privacy our handouts did not include the pictures.)

Presentations are about people communicating with people, not marketing departments communicating with procurement departments.  Try using pictures of ‘real’ people in your next presentation (with their permission of course). The advantage is that your audience will know that they are speaking with real human beings.

Joe P


R.E.M. – Shiny happy people 1991