Show! Don’t Just Tell:   Engage Your Audience and Enhance Rapport

(766 words)

Successful public speaking involves a respect for the listeners’ desire to be included in the communication event, and this includes the moments when you are showing props, slides, charts, or other visuals to your audience.

Everything you show when giving a business talk matters.  Everything counts:  either building rapport with the audience or compromising rapport.

I recently observed a business presenter who held up a variety of signs containing printed information for her audience to read.  The print was so small that people seated beyond the third row (about eighty percent of the audience) were unable to read it!  The speaker also neglected to read these signs aloud for the benefit of everyone present.  She quickly moved from one subject to the next, withdrawing the sign and failing to ensure that everyone had been able to see the printed words.

All of this happened within a matter of seconds, which some may consider too brief to be of any real significance.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every physical action of showing something (no matter how small, no matter how quick) must help audience members feel included.

By failing to provide visuals that could be easily seen by her entire audience, this presenter created moments of audience alienation.  Imagine an audience member sitting in the sixth, tenth, or fifteenth row:  seeing the speaker hold up an illegible sign.  The audience member strains to read it, discovers that it is impossible, and may well feel frustrated, wondering what she just missed.  While she is wondering what was written on the signs (or while she is whispering to another audience member to find out), she misses the next moments of the presentation.

Now she feels even more frustrated (and perhaps even annoyed with the speaker) because the speaker has not taken care of her; the speaker has not helped her understand the message fully.  Instead, the speaker aroused interest and then failed to communicate!

Other audience members may have experienced similar feelings at this point in the presentation.  If there are additional moments of this kind, the result can destroy speaker-audience rapport and jeopardize the credibility of the speaker.

On another occasion, I witnessed a business speaker make it difficult for the audience to follow his own suggestion.  As he was praising a newly-published business book, he lifted a copy of the book (presumably because he wanted his audience to see the cover, so that they would recognize it easily and buy it).  However, the speaker raised the book very quickly and in the most off-handed manner, and his hand was actually covering the front of the book and its binding!  Few, if any, audience members were able to see what it looked like.

This “showing but not showing” certainly did not project a sincere recommendation of the book.  (If the author had been present, she would not have been pleased!)  More importantly, however, this “showing but not showing” alienates the audience, because it denies them the opportunity to have an experience.

Take a tip from actors, especially those that do TV commercials.  In that world, actors take great care to handle objects (usually products) in a manner that features the product for the camera.  Business speakers should do the same:  take the time to be deliberate and thorough when you show something to your audience.  Apply this purposeful handling of objects to your business presentations, where the “camera” is actually the eyes of your audience.

It is easy enough to present a book or any other visual with purpose, care, and adequate time for the whole audience to be included in the visual experience.   Practice handling all objects to be used in your presentation, and if you will need to gesture to show something, practice gesturing in ways that will truly help focus the audience’s attention on the visual.

Whenever possible, visit your speaking venue in advance (or arrive at the venue at least one hour before the presentation is to begin).  This gives you time to sit in various sections of the audience area before the audience arrives, so that you can test the “sightlines” (as we say in the theater) and make sure that everything that is meant to be seen can be seen from every seat in the house.

Effective public speaking is purposeful and honors the audience’s need to be included in the visual experience:  the spectacle, the show!   Embrace your listeners by showing:  you will enhance your rapport with the audience and enhance your own credibility.

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida

Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and; or visit

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