You haven’t kept your focus. You’ve forgotten that the presentation isn’t about you; it’s about your audience.
Icebreakers are for when you meet the audience members for the first time, when you’re making that first impression. When you do that, when you share icebreakers, there’s one very important rule:
How you’re feeling and what you’re doing doesn’t matter as much as how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. You should be concentrating on their feelings and their needs.
Everyone wants to know how to get up in front of an audience and connect with it—right away using “Icebreakers”. I will tell you how. Using the Rule the Room principles, you will get an immediate response that will be unlike any you have experienced. The rustling will stop. People will come to attention. Eyes will be fixed on you. That’s because you will be using techniques most presenters have no idea about, but will win over even the toughest audience. You may even be surprised to find you’re enjoying yourself.
In the first five minutes, there are five “Icebreakers” I have found that not only break the ice, but they do the primary thing that icebreakers SHOULD be intended to do:
Get Them to Trust You
The primary need of your audience is to feel safe with you and among their peers, so that’s what you must deal with first. Once they trust you, they will feel safe. The best way to start is with a thoroughly rehearsed strong opening.
I am amazed so many people take such care with the content of their presentation and don’t spend much time thinking about the first impression they make when they come onstage. They start their presentation with a phrase that they THINK is an ICEBREAKER, but actually isn’t.
Some presenters even start by fiddling with the mic. The audience doesn’t know if the person on stage is the presenter or the AV tech until the person says, “I guess I’d better turn the mic up. I have a very soft voice.”
But these openers (some incorrectly refer to them as “Icebreakers”, all of which I have actually heard, aren’t any better):
- “Can everybody hear me?”
- “I’ll talk for about forty-five minutes or so.”
- “I know you’re all very busy.”
- “I’m very glad to be here.”
- “I’m a graphic designer.”
- “All right, I just want to start with a little story . . .”
- “Hey. So, first and foremost, I really want to, um, thank everybody.”
- “Probably the first thing I should tell you is . . .”
- “You guys are awesome.”
- “Uh, all right, before I get started . . .”
- “So, I have been up here a few times today, although I have not properly introduced myself.”
- “All right, let’s get started.”
Such awkward comments are not compelling and don’t make a presenter seem credible. The audience feels disappointed and their expectations are deflated.
To connect with your audience, even before you say a word, you have to make an impressive physical impression. Here are the top five “Icebreakers” that will help you do exactly that.
Ice Breaker #1: Introduce Yourself
Once you have positioned yourself and begun to make eye contact, speak. The audience members want to know who you are, so tell them. Say your full name, because that sounds more professional, and eliminate all the fillers: “Hello, I’m Jason Teteak,” “Good afternoon, I’m Jason Teteak,” or simply, “I’m Jason Teteak,” rather than “Hi, and, um, I’m Jason Teteak,” or “All right, I’m Jason.”
Speak in a confident voice—that is, keeping your pitch even on every syllable and then dropping it on the last.
If you’re speaking to a small group of people who already know you, substitute something simple, direct, and brief as your introduction, such as, “Good morning. Welcome to the August staff meeting.”
I call this an icebreaker because it starts to build that trust by letting your audience know who you are in a confident way. While it’s not technically a full-fledged icebreaker, it starts to break the ice and gets you to icebreaker #2 below.
Icebreaker #2: Give Your Credentials
Giving your credentials can be a very powerful icebreaker in winning trust if you do it in the proper way. Most presenters think the audience wants to know what the presenter does. But telling your audience what your specialty is and how long you’ve been doing it isn’t going to help you win the trust of your audience members. Again: it’s about them, not about you. What will make them feel safe and trusting is hearing how what you do will help them.
I asked a new client how he normally introduces himself. “I am a software developer,” he began. “I have worked at my company for ten years, and I write code.” Then he started to list his achievements.
“Stop,” I interrupted. “Just tell me how what you do helps people. What kind of problems do you solve?”
“Interfaces are often difficult. I create interfaces that are easier to use,” he said.
“That’s what you tell your audience,” I explained. “What they want to hear—what everyaudience wants to hear—is ‘What can you do for me?’”
They need to know who you are and why you’re the best person to deliver this presentation, but your goal in presenting your credentials is not to promote yourself but to indicate what you have to offer them.
The best way to do that is with an elevator pitch, a summary—short enough to deliver in the course of an elevator ride—that tells people what problems you can solve and what benefits you provide.
For example, I could tell my audiences I’m a communication coach for top-level executives and a presentation expert. I could add how many years of experience I have and in how many areas, or I could mention how many thousands of people I’ve trained or list the names of clients who’ve consulted with me.
But rather than saying, “I’ve been teaching people how to do presentations for fifteen years and I’ve been successful working with thousands of presenters,” I explain how I have value to the listener. This would vary depending on the specific topic of the presentation. So I might say, “I help people overcome their fears and actually enjoy delivering their presentations,” “I make successful communication simple,” or “I help professionals deliver a compelling message.”
When I asked my client Richard, the banker, what he considered his clients’ biggest problems, he said it was thinking of ways to expand their businesses. Now his credential statement is “I help community bankers find new income sources.”
Similarly, rather than saying, “I’m a computer software engineer with twenty years of experience,” my engineer client learned to say, “I create software that’s easy to use.” This works for any profession. “I’m a tour guide who’s been living in Paris for a decade” is less appealing than “I help guide others to the trip of a lifetime when they visit Paris.”
Now this software engineer or this tour guide have an icebreaker that builds trust.
Think about how your experience will relieve a pain point or enhance a pleasure point to describe your own credentials. Once you do that, your audience will start to feel safe and trust you enough to keep listening, and you can move to the next step.
Icebreaker #3: Get Them to Believe You
When you have their trust, your audience is ready to believe you. Actually, the audience wants to believe a presenter. Audience members want to know they’ve come to this presentation for a good purpose. The way you inspire belief is with the hook. The hook is icebreaker number three.
I’m going to tell you exactly what the hook is in a moment, but first…
…when you deliver the hook, stay still. Don’t move your feet, and keep your hands at your sides or loosely clasped in front of you. Your pace should be slower than normal, because slowness implies what you’re going to say is extremely important—so important that they need time for it to sink in.
Start with a confident phrase
Instead of a tentative “I hope to tell you” or “Today we’re going to cover,” use something like this:
- I’m going to show you . . .
- I’m going to tell you . . .
- You’re about to learn . . .
You want your listeners to associate the desirable hook with you and realize that they must to be attentive to you in order to get the information they need.
I promised I’d tell you more about the hook…
…here you go:
While items on your agenda are what your audience wants to know, the hook tells them why they want to know it—the underlying emotional issues that you determine through your research.
After they’ve revealed their pain points and pleasure points, you figure out how to relieve the first and enhance the second by offering agenda items that will give them some combination of happiness, success, and freedom.
Did you catch that?
Those are the three keys to Icebreaker #3.
- If you’re presenting to sales professionals: “I’m going to show you how to get your prospect’s attention, put your message across, and close the deal.”
- If you’re presenting to a group of academic administrators: “I’m going to show you how you can get everyone to feel heard in a limited amount of time with a plan of action before the meeting is over.”
- If you’re presenting to software developers: “I’m going to show you how to test faster and find bugs sooner without a complicated change in your operations.”
- If you’re presenting to venture capitalists to get funding for your startup: “I’m going to show you how investing in my company will provide you greater financial rewards in a better market with less risk.”
The right hook tells your audience members why they should listen to you. It suggests the ways in which they’ll be happier, more successful, and/or free. Once you’ve tapped these emotions in a truthful, compelling way, your audience will begin to believe you and they’ll be captivated.
Engaged by the hook, the audience members begin to think, What are you going to give me? I want to see it! They crave the takeaways.
Now, heighten the anticipation by asking the audience members themselves to come up with the topics that most concern them and demonstrate your credibility by letting them know that’s exactly what you will be talking about.
That’s Icebreaker #3.
Make all that happen with Icebreaker #4 I developed: the circle of knowledge.
Icebreaker #4: Get Them to Listen to You
The circle of knowledge is an icebreaker to get the audience members to reveal what they actually want to know from you and to look good while they do it—and ultimately, it will be a tool to get them to listen.
The simple, three-step process is an unparalleled tool to help you connect with your audience and get them to want to listen to you.
Step 1: Ask a question
Begin by saying, “Before we get started, I want to know what you think.” Ask them what they think are the top three things that represent a success in the topic you’re presenting about. Then, give them thirty seconds to write down their individual answers. Asking the right question is key.
- If you’re presenting to sales professionals: “What are the top three qualities you think successful salespeople all have?”
- If you’re presenting to a group of academic administrators: “What are the top three things that make an effective staff meeting?”
- If you’re presenting to software developers: “What are the top three features that make a new software program appealing to any market?”
- If you’re presenting to venture capitalists to get funding for your startup: “What are the top three criteria a great investment should meet?”
What the question achieves: When I described the circle of knowledge, Richard White, who wanted to sell his services to community bankers, wanted to ask, “What are the top three concerns community bankers have?” For a presentation I would make, I would like to ask, “What are the top three areas you need to improve as a presenter?” so I could address those concerns.
But it is pointless to ask a question designed to uncover pain points. Why? Because you won’t get many responses. People don’t want to reveal their weaknesses publicly.
However, if you ask what are the top qualities or skills or results they’d like to achieve in their area, you will get lots of answers. Though they may be unwilling to express their deficiencies, people always know how to state positive goals.
Richard reworded his question to ask, “What do you think are the top three qualities of a great loan?” As a presenter myself, I would ask, “What are the top three qualities that make an amazing presenter?” By making our audience members feel like experts and keeping the topic positive, we gain insights and build our credibility to our audiences.
Spend time on coming up with questions for the circle of knowledgethat will prompt useful responses.
Ask a question that:
- Directly relates to the overall topic of the presentation.
- Is expressed in a positive way.
- Is open-ended, with multiple right answers.
- Is designed to tell you what your listeners want to know about the topic.
- Allows the audience to demonstrate some expertise about the topic.
Step 2: Request agreement
Ask audience members to take another thirty seconds to discuss and then agree with the person sitting next to them on the best answer.
What this process achieves:Your audience is always a bit apprehensive at the beginning, both about you and about interacting with others. But your question will allow audience members to express their opinions about a topic they care about and to come to an agreement—people love to agree—with a colleague or peer. This makes them loosen up, which makes them feel safer, which makes them more comfortable and ready to enjoy your presentation.
Step 3: Call on a relayer
Ask each pair to assign one of them to be the relayer who states what they came up with.
What this achieves:Using a relayer system will be far more productive than asking for individual responses. People are less hesitant to speak in front of an audience if they are speaking on behalf of someone else, because they don’t have to take individual responsibility if their answer is not well received.
In this case, since the question is based on their expertise, people often are eager to answer, hoping to look good in front of and be validated by you and by their peers.
After a minute has elapsed (thirty seconds to write things down, thirty seconds to consult with the relayer), ask, “Relayers, what did you come up with?” They may not be sure whether to raise their hand or not, so I encourage them to be a bit informal by saying, “Shout it out. What are the top three things that make an effective [your topic]?”
As they shout out answers, write them down on a board or a large sticky note if you can. (You’ll want to refer back to these later in your presentation to show you’ve met their needs). When you use the circle of knowledge, the answers come so quickly you may have trouble writing fast enough to get them all down. In the hundreds of times I’ve used the circle of knowledge, it has never failed to get an enthusiastic and helpful response.
The circle of knowledgeis effective and powerful.
- It enlivens the presentation.
- It gives your audience a chance to show its expertise and feel comfortable with you.
- It shows your empathy: You care what they have to say and you’re listening to them.
- It tells you exactly what they want to know. To the question of what makes a great loan, Richard’s audience mentioned such topics as minimizing risk, using existing customer relationships, and satisfying their customers. Among the qualities my audiences have said will make you amazing as a presenter are showing confidence, looking knowledgeable, using humor, appearing calm and flexible, building rapport, and so on.
- These answers reconfirmed the topics research told us were of interest, but with the circle of knowledge, the audience was hearing the answers aloud.
- If people add a topic you hadn’t prepared for, but you’re knowledgeable in that area, you may be able to weave the topic into your presentation in real time. (I’ll make some suggestions for doing that later in chapter 12.)
- At the very least, you’ve got some market research for the future.
- Best of all, you’ll have the perfect segue from what they want to the takeaways that you have. Once you bridge that gap, you will have them exactly where you want them, hanging on every word you are about to say.
Icebreaker #5: The Takeaways and Summary
Reveal your takeaways
The final icebreaker is really the “icing on the cake”.
It works like this:
First, you introduce your main agenda slide, you say, “Here’s what I’m going to show you today.”
Click on the main agenda slide and let them read your takeaways.
The takeaways are what they get for listing to your presentation, and it’s an icebreaker because it’s solidifying their trust and belief in you as a presenter, and it’s giving them something else to look at besides just you.
Your audience members will discover that what they want and what you’re going to show them are nearly one and the same.
Don’t read to them. They’re adults.
Make your summary
In this fifth icebreaker, the final step is to make your summary. It’s the last step of the last icebreaker…
…after a couple of seconds, give the actual number of new strategies and techniques they will get and restate the title of the presentation.
For example, when a financial client of mine shows his takeaways, and he says, “I’m going to show you five specific strategies to increase loans with less risk.” When I show my takeaways, I say, “I’m going to show you eighteen new techniques that will help you deliver an amazing presentation.”
Now, that’s an icebreaker.
Because at this point, they trust you, they believe you, and now they want to listen to you because you’ve introduced the topics which your research revealed what they cared about.
The Five Icebreakers: What They Accomplish for You?
The five icebreakers above take only 5 minutes tops. Within five minutes you’ve accomplished all of the following:
- Established your credibility (with your introduction and credential statement)
- Reminded them why they have come (with the topic hook)
- Engaged them in the process and acknowledged their expertise (with the circle of knowledge)
- Reassured them you’ll give them something amazing (by revealing your agenda)
- Piqued their interest with a mystery (because they’re wondering how you’ll give them the answers)
And isn’t that what icebreakers are intended to do?