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Wanna rock your audience?


Rock-star. Who doesn't want to be one? It is hard to meet anyone who doesn't want the undivided attention of a mesmerized audience. Wanting the attention however doesn't mean you're going to get it. Even seasoned performers discover that getting attention of their desired audience is real tough – just ask U2, whose new, free-to-download album couldn't even muster a lukewarm response and that tends to be the rule, rather than the exception. It takes an astute and charismatic leader to make it seem effortless what appears almost impossible for others.

If you attended, watched or listened to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to Indian Americans at the world famous Madison Square Garden arena in New York City, you know that he came, he saw and he conquered the hearts and minds of 20,000 folks in the arena. So how did he do it?

1. Be simple – if you can captivate your audience at the beginning of your talk, then you have them for good. Modi did it so subtly and so simply that it was almost unnoticeable. He greeted the audience and then simply added "I wish you Happy Navaratri"* . By adding just 5 words, he grabbed their attention and respect instantly, because these five word were easy to forget and yet as Modi showed, equally easy to use, effectively.


2. Humor done seriously– Humor is a tool that many speakers attempt to add, but what Modi did with humor was extraordinary. He used humor to make his speech sharper and more intelligent. One example; he recalled a trip to Taiwan where he was asked if India was still a land of snake charmers. His answer (paraphrased) was that India had moved on from snakes, and now plays with a mouse (referring to the fact that India has become a global powerhouse of software, and the mouse referred to a computer mouse). He later joked that it takes about 16 cents to travel one kilometer in India, yet India's probe to Mars cost India just about 12 cents per kilometer. His humorous tone masked a very significant fact: a country that historically struggled with public transit was now on the path to be a leader in space travel.


3. Involve/Engage while offering confidence – you can be just an ordinary speaker, or you can be a magician. To be a magician, you must make the conversation interactive while keeping total control as a speaker. Modi managed both these very successfully. Once he had covered his important points, he asked his enchanted audience to give their feedback on the steps he has taken and the ones he has promised. The audience gave a thumping "Yes" to very single question he posed to them. He was not only able to involve them, but he masterfully and subtly showed that he understood the issues that mattered to his audience. He was making it clear that while he was the highest elected official of world's largest democracy, he was aware of the daily issues of the average person. He also emphasized multiple times that he had full trust in capabilities of his own, his countrymen and the audience right in front of him, thus giving doses of confidence to everyone that he trusted them implicitly.


While there were a number of lessons one could learn from Narendra Modi's address, the three that stand out are:

  • Simple beats slick
  • Humor with purpose wins
  • Be one with the audience

Whether you're a leader by position, choice or attitude, you can adopt the winning ways of the Indian Prime Minister. Make your next talk, whether it's a speech to your team or a keynote to a stadium full of people, simple, humorous and empathetic, and you will be rewarded by adulation of an audience that lives on your every word.

* Navratri is an Indian festival which lasts nine days. It literally means nine nights- a scared nine day ritual observance for a majority of Indians

MSG – Madison Square Garden is not only considered the World's Most famous arena but tugs an emotional chord in my heart having worked just a block away and walking past by it everyday for several years