Making Your Audience Feel Special: Lessons from an Indian Housekeeper

When you’re presenting, do you care about your audience?

If your answer is “yes” (which I hope it is), then the next question is: how do you show them you care?

If you’re able to deliver an insanely great presentation, that’s certainly one way to show them you care. Engaging design. Impactful visual images. Rehearsed and smooth delivery.

Those are some elements of an amazing presentation. The truth, however, is that every presentation should include all of those things.

I feel that in order to make an audience feel truly special, we presenters need to pay attention to the little things, too. This thought struck me like a ton of bricks during a recent stay at the Fortune Hotel in Madurai (India).

I had just returned to my room after a long day of meetings, and this is what greeted me as I walked into my room:

03132014 - Bed

03132014 - Nessie

A neat room, clean towels in the bathroom, a freshly made bed – those are the equivalent of an engaging presentation with impactful visual images and a smooth delivery (if you’re not able to offer those basics, it’s kind of like sticking your audience in a pay-by-the-hour motel).

The housekeeper that was attending to my room went way above and beyond to make me feel special.

03132014 - Note

He left a basket of clean clothes on the bed along with my fleece arranged in a fun pose and some towels in heart-shaped formation. On the coffee table, some type of long-necked towel animal (the Loch Ness monster?) waited for me, along with the coup de grace: a simple, hand-written note. “Have a successful day. Welcome back.”

These little things are memorable. I don’t know that I actually met the housekeeper tending to my room, but he certainly made me feel like he cared about my experience, and my success! If I’m in Madurai again, I think I’d like to return to this specific hotel.

What’s the equivalent when getting ready for a presentation? A training room that’s neatly laid out. A hand-written note, customized for each attendee. Learning their names as quickly as possible. This stuff is all free, and it will immediately establish a connection with your audience.

What kinds of things are you doing to make your audience feel special, like they’ll want to pay attention to every word you have to say, like they’ll want to come back? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Imagery Matters

Earlier this week, I found myself in the bathroom of a large eye hospital in India. As I washed my hands, I looked up at the wall and found a poster reminding me not to waste water. I immediately turned the water off. No dawdling.


I’ve been in a lot of public bathrooms and I’ve seen a lot of signs with either just text (“Employees must wash their hands after using the bathroom”) or a combination of text and words, like this:


None of those signs ever made me think twice about how long I spent washing my hands (or waiting for warm water to come out of the faucet).

In India this week, this is the sign that jolted me into action:

03062014 Imagery Matters 2

This poster, with very few words and just three photos was an amazingly powerful reminder to me that indeed I should not take this water for granted.

What does this have to do with training professionals and presentation materials? The imagery we use in our slides, in handouts, in job aids matters. A simple yet powerful image can truly move people to act, much more so than any words you can speak.

Have you ever been moved to action by imagery? Tell us about it in the comments section.

The Evolution of an SME

Last weekend, I asked one SME with whom I’ve worked closely to share his experience going from PowerPoint-based lectures to learner-centered presentations.  Here’s what he had to say:

“Earlier this summer I was asked to join a team working in India to teach the basics in Quality Assurance.  Shortly thereafter I began preparing my presentation slides for my assigned sessions covering six hours over three days. While Quality Assurance has always come easily to me, others tend to struggle with the concepts and techniques and I have struggled in the past teaching these ideas and techniques to others.  I had been preparing my slides when our learning and development manager asked how my lesson plans were coming. I responded that my slides were ready but I hadn’t prepared lesson plans.  He recommended I go through the process of preparing lesson plans, hinting that this was actually was more than a recommendation.’

“’You want me to do what?!’ I asked sarcastically. Lesson plans? Learner-centered? It all sounded a bit too new age to me. ‘I don’t do touchy feely,’ I told him.’

“After a lengthy discussion about the benefits of the lesson plan, I reluctantly began the process of developing lesson plans.  I was provided a lesson plan template and assigned a mentor who had gone through the process before.  At the beginning of the process I felt lost and intimidated as a little voice in my head kept telling me that I needed slides to survive a six-hour presentation.  My mentor kept me on task with the lesson plans, and the learning and development manager kept me reassured that the process would help us develop an amazing learning experience.’

“Slowly but surely the plans came together. We defined objectives for the sessions, and expectations for the participants. Once the objectives were defined we brainstormed content and key points on quality that would help the attendees meet the defined objectives. We also discussed different options for teaching the topics, including hands-on, small and large group discussions.’

“The process was painful as it was a foreign approach – foreign because it added activities to the structure of the course.  I was no longer to be the expert that would do a data download by slides but would actually have to teach and challenge the students with activities and hands-on learning.  With the lesson plans completed, I sighed with relief. I was done with the process.’

“Then I was informed our process would include a multi-day walkthrough of the material – a sort of dressed rehearsal.  My idea of what went into a successful presentation was again being stretched.’

“In the end I learned that by following this process, we were set up to deliver a session which was well-received by the attendees, evident by the learning that could be physically observed during the sessions. I plan to use this process again when invited to speak and I look forward to increasing my presentation prep proficiency.’

“And to be honest, I guess I can do touchy feely.”

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