Engagement is the the word I first thought of when I started writing about how I interact with people while emceeing meetings or presenting at trade shows, but come to find out, what I meant was Engage. You see, engagement in Webster’s is defined as: 1 – a formal agreement to get married, 2 – do something or go somewhere at a fixed time, 3 – the action of engaging or being engaged (I abhor when definitions use the actual word in the definition) and 4 – a fight or battle between armed forces.

I guess what I really mean is Engage, as it’s defined as: to occupy, attract, or involve someone’s interest or attention (love their example: “he plowed on, trying to outline his plans and engage Sutton’s attention.” Who is Sutton and why is he getting plowed?)

Sorry, back on topic. My job is to engage attendees to bring my corporate clients messages and ideas to life. It’s part of my core beliefs: “I’m committed to helping people reach their full potential.”

To do this I incorporate three basic tenants: being present, active listening and surprise. Let’s break those down and I’ll let you go…

1) Being Present: there are tomes written on this under the heading of Mindfulness, Zen, Buddhism, consciousness, focus, etc. It all boils down to being there, REALLY being there, in the moment. Walking your dog, doing the dishes, eating, playing with a child, etc. The list truly goes on and on. Think about it. When you’re awake, how often are you actually present thinking about where you are, what you are doing and all that it entails (sounds, smells, sights)?

This goes hand and hand with our next section when it comes to the person or people with whom you are communicating.

2) Active Listening: How many times have you caught yourself waiting for the person to get done speaking so you can say something? Right? Me too. Instead, notice these times, stop your inner monologue and listen to their words. Really listen. So many people ask you a question because they want you to ask them the same thing, so THEY can answer…. they’re just killing time until you’re done talking. Try it, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn when you try and JUST listen.

President Bill Clinton is known for exactly this. Business Week wrote, “Clinton looked me in the eye and seemed to have a genuine interest in what I was saying. His gaze never left me. He made me feel like the most important person in the room.” When asked why he does this he responded, “Everyone has a story and something to teach me, you just have to listen to them.” Wow.

3) Surprise: To accomplish this I use humor. The comic genius Herb Gardner said, “Once you get people laughing…they’re listening.” (see how all three topics covered here interconnect?)

A lot of people have said that the key to something being funny is that there’s an “incongruity” present. Often this means “surprise.” In simple terms, what happened goes against what you thought would happen. Even Aristotle said, “The secret to humor is surprise.” And he knew everything!

A joke, in its construction, must have a twist, and that twist will be the surprise, and that surprise can be complex or very simple. One of the simplest examples is: You know what really makes me smile? Facial muscles. You expect the answer to be something that makes the person who asked the question happy, like ice cream, puppies, etc. But, the answer just states the obvious. Surprise. It’s the expectations that make the joke work.

It’s why there are only X amount of joke structures (experts put it at between 7 & 11) The most common being (and this is the correct term) “qualitative recontextualization.” Simply put, it’s when something you know well is changed, like when you laugh at someone’s new haircut.

Summary: You want to engage someone or a group of people? Be there with them, listen to them, then surprise them. It’s worked for me.

Richard Laible

About Richard Laible

Professional Master of Ceremonies, Richard Laible, has performed in hundreds of corporate industrials, for numerous Fortune 500 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Cisco, Sprint PCS, McDonald’s, Ameritech, Kraft USA, Burger King, Motorola, IBM, SAP and many more throughout his two decade career. His specialties include Corporate Emcee, Corporate Meeting Host, Trade Show Presenter and Sales Meeting Host. Contact Richard Laible at richard@richardlaible.com or 847.446.2425