Executive Careers Blog

Want to Succeed? Read Their Minds


You’re standing in front of an audience, about to begin your presentation. Will your opening grab their attention?

There are lots of techniques, but here's an easy one: Look at your audience and say, “You’re probably thinking ________.”

Then, of course, you need to fill in the blank with what your audience is thinking. It’s not a magic trick, so the answer is probably not “The Ace of Spades.”

Suppose I’m sitting in your audience. There I am, thinking about me. That’s human nature. But then you announce that you’re also thinking about me. That makes me curious: “What are you thinking about what I’m thinking?”

Reading this, you’re probably thinking, “How do I know what my audience is thinking? Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m thinking.”

But it’s not that difficult, especially if you suspect your audience is not thrilled to be there.

Motivational Speaker

Suppose, for example, you’re the 37th speaker at your organization’s New Employee Orientation. Your audience has been there for days. By now, they’re completely disoriented.

You step to the front, and say, “You’re probably thinking, ‘Will we ever get out of here?’”

That’s exactly what they’re thinking, but they certainly didn’t expect you to say it.

“Well,” you then continue, “I’m here to tell you that, no, unfortunately, you will never get out of here. You’ll be trapped in this room forever.”

The minute you acknowledge what they’re feeling, it frees them up to feel something else.

Plus, now you’ve got their attention.

Tip: “You” is a great word when giving a presentation. “You” means you’re focused on your audience, and that means your audience is more likely to focus on you.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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