The Rules of Engagement

Business people sitting around a table in a meeting

In every seminar I conduct, I always ask attendees the number one thing they want to accomplish. Hundreds of answers have emerged, but among the list, a few familiar themes have repeated over and over. Here’s one of them: How do I make my presentations, meetings, and communication more engaging?

The Rules

To help you do that I have started to compile a list of ways. I call the list The Rules of Engagement. The list is always growing, but I’ll start with these seven:

#1 Engagement = Frequency

Communicate more often but in smaller amounts. No one ever finished attending a presentation or a meeting or reading an e-mail and said, “I wish that had gone on longer.”

#2 Don’t waste time

Recognize that everyone you deal with is the busiest person in the world. Some successful, hard working people have money to waste. None have time to waste.

#3 Communicate without words

Do as much as possible with appearance, body language, tone. They all speak for you before your words arrive to your audience. White space helps too. Use it. It lets your audience breathe.

#4 Ask questions

Most of us spend too much time telling others information. Ask first. Get your audience involved. You’ll be amazed how much time they save you so you can do the same for them.

#5 Listen without thinking of the next thing to say

Most of us–and I am as guilty as anyone–ask a question and while the other person is answering, we’re busy formulating our next comment. I have found this to be far more powerful: Just listen. Put your full energy and attention on what the other person is saying. The outcome will surprise you.

The other person will feel your focus and attention–and appreciate it. And when they stop talking, you’ll think of something to say if you even need to say something.

Just listen.

When it’s your turn to talk the words will come to you. And you won’t need as many words because your attention will have already communicated for you.


#6 Tell stories

Stories have more power than just raw data and information. Stories put data and information into context.

Stories help us connect with other people because all good stories revolve around some form of struggle.

When you share a story your audience members–whether an audience of one or 1,000– are far more likely to follow the story and understand your point then they are likely to just absorb all the facts that your throw out at them.

#7 Dare to be vulnerable

I learned this several years ago during a keynote I was giving. I shared the tremendous pain involved watching my father, a mountain of a man, succumb to Alzheimer’s disease.

While telling the story (see Rule #5) a wave of emotion hit me and I got choked up.

I had to stop and gather myself. At first, I was embarrassed. Then I sensed something amazing.

The audience supported me.

They connected with the authenticity of my pain.

Afterward, several people approached me and thanked me for sharing my story, and my pain because until then they felt like they were the only person out there who felt it. They were going through it too! There’s a lot of pain in the world. Dare to share yours, not in a whiny, poor pitiful me way, but in an authentic, this is life, vulnerable way. The results are truly engaging.

Your Turn

Don’t let the name fools you. These aren’t really “rules.” They’re guidelines, suggestions, ways to engage more with your audience. Pick one that resonates with you and try it. Get comfortable with it.

When you get the results you want, try another. Then another.

Think of these rules as tools. The more you can use, the more you can use and the better you can use them, the more you can make your communication engaging–in presentations, in meetings, even in e-mails.

What are you waiting for? Get started. Time is wasting. And that violates rule two.




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