At last summer’s Fix Auto National Conference in San Diego, the spotlight was on Landon Thompson.
Serving as the event’s emcee, all eyes were on Thompson, as he was tasked with introducing speakers, keeping the audience engaged, and shifting gears in a timely manner. Even for someone with nearly two decades of industry experience—and whom leads frequent staff meetings for a large network of body shops—the experience was mildly nerve-wracking.
“Everybody gets a little nervous at the start of meetings,” says Thompson, Fix Auto’s vice president of operations. “I get that level of discomfort at the start of a lot of these meetings, as well.”
You would hardly know it, though. When leading a group gathering, Thompson provides energy, humor, and a conversational tone that typically captures the attention of a crowd.
He manages to energize a group during meetings by keeping a few simple strategies in mind.
Make it fun.
An easy way to get an audience on your side is by playing to their basic, human emotions, Thompson says. And, the easiest way to accomplish that is to, at the very least, make an attempt at humor—even if you lack the comedic timing of Billy Crystal or Chris Rock.
“Look, the stuff we’re talking about [in the collision repair industry] isn’t extraordinarily fun,” Thompson says. So, “find opportunities to lighten stuff up. If something makes you laugh you tend to remember it. If you just stand there and talk about scanning for an hour, it’s very easy for someone to start falling asleep.”
Read your audience.
If Thompson senses he’s losing the interest of his crowd, he’s not shy about changing gears to a more relevant topic that captures a group’s attention. If he finds himself standing in front of a group with glazed-over eyes, expressionless faces, and that happens to be extraordinarily quiet, Thompson has learned that it’s best to take a detour from his original plans for a presentation.
“Nothing ever fully goes as planned,” he explains. “You have to have a goal of what you want to deliver during your meeting. You have to be willing to change and not be rigid and panic in those moments. Sometimes you make it worse when you try to stick to a script that’s not going smoothly.”
In order to connect with an audience, you need to be relatable to the group. The worst thing you can do, Thompson says, is to sound as if you’re bragging about your boundless, encyclopedic knowledge of the industry. It’s far more effective, he says, to find common ground.
“Some speakers will go up there and talk about how ‘I’ve done this and this, and I’ve run a successful business’ and puff their chest out (and) they kind of turn people off because they just seem like a know-it-all. Being humble” is important.
Keep things concise.
When it comes to virtually any presentation, it pays to be bold and brief. At Fix Auto’s monthly staff meetings, for example, speakers are required to keep presentations to no more than 10 minutes, in an effort to maintain the group’s attention.
“It’s okay if things end up even being a little bit short, versus dragging out too long,” Thompson says. “You’ve asked someone to dedicate a period of time to the meeting, so you have to be respectful of that. You don’t want to squeeze too much into the agenda.”
Seek audience interaction.
When Thompson leads a group meeting, he largely focuses on keeping the tone conversational and even asks the occasional question of the crowd. That tactic helps avoid both awkward silences and nervous moments for the speaker.
“Some speakers get uncomfortable because they feel like ‘I’m standing there and I have 10, 20 eyes on me,” Thompson notes. “But, if you get other people involved, not all eyes are on you. If you get Johnny in the crowd involved, now they’re all looking at Johnny, and that’s a good way to relieve that.”