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Ride a wave of stirring surprise

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Predictability deadens a presentation. You don’t want your audience to sit there thinking, “I’ve heard all this before. Blah, blah, blah.”

To captivate people, surprise them. Subvert their expectations. Keep them wondering what you’ll say next.

In the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the authors urge speakers to undo an audience’s “guessing machine.” That means making it hard for listeners to guess exactly where you’re going with your presentation.

Some speakers take all the surprise out of their presentation by distributing a stapled handout of all their slides. When you’ve received such packets ahead of a speech, you probably didn’t think, “Wow, this looks fantastic! I can’t wait to hear every word.”

Just as it’s a no-no to give out slides in advance, don’t walk onto the stage with a notebook and start reading your remarks. Audience members will look at the remaining pages in front of you and gauge how much longer you’re going to talk.

Surprise consists of posing a mystery and promising to solve it, doing the opposite of what you usually do (or what your listeners come to expect) or withholding key information until the right time. You might open with a controversial comment that startles people or introduce an intriguing prop.

Use audiovisual aids to entice people to pay attention. Write a code or cryptic acronym on a whiteboard and say, “This unlocks the secret of my presentation.” Or play two seemingly unrelated snippets of music and say, “By the end of my talk, you’ll see the connection between these two tunes.”

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