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Always Compliment Your Audience, Onstage And Off… To Persuade And Be Happy

Written by: Howard Dean Lettinga Jr.

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


At Noblahblah, our core business is public speaker training, and we always encourage speakers to compliment their audience. It shows respect. It connects. It compels you as a speaker to look closely into the audience’s world. It increases your persuasive power. It even makes you happier. And what works onstage works just as well in your daily life.

Several years ago, I attended a writing class where the instructor did an exercise to demonstrate the power of compliments when writing dialogue. He chose a random student from the room. He didn’t know the person or their writing, but he started a rant along the following lines.

I’ve read your writing. It’s shabby stuff. Weak characters. Flat dialogue. I’m afraid you are not a strong writer. Not a lot of hope there.

The effect on the class was fascinating. Even though we all knew it was just an exercise, the vibe took a deep, deep dive. Totally depressing.

Then the instructor did the opposite. He chose another random student.

I’ve read your writing. It’s brilliant stuff. Strong characters. Electric dialogue. You are an excellent writer. You have a promising career ahead of you.

Again, a surprisingly strong effect. The vibe rose like a SpaceX rocket. Sunshine. Relief. The power of positivity. Even though it was just an exercise.

Coaching TEDx talks: compliments make you more persuasive

That exercise showed me how you can influence a moment, a conversation, even a whole room full of people with a compliment. I took that lesson along when I became a TEDx speaker coach in 2014.

The goal of every TED talk is to share an “idea worth spreading”. In other words, to persuade the audience of the idea’s value. Large bodies of research prove the persuasive power of compliments, including Robert Cialdini’s research into reciprocity, shared in his book Influence. The psychology of persuasion.

When you compliment someone, you are being kind to them. This makes them want to be kind to you in return. Countless studies prove this. In one, complimenting someone made them twice as likely to respond positively to a small request. Compliments persuade.

Compliments make you happier too

But it gets even better. A new field of research shows compliments not only make the recipient feel good.

Researchers, including Cornell social psychologist Vanessa Bohns, conducted a series of studies to better understand how individuals felt before and after giving or receiving compliments.

The study revealed just how much good work a nice word can do. Compliments not only make the recipients feel good. They make the giver feel good as well.

But there’s nothing worse than fake compliments

So, if you want to feel good, make friends and influence people, give compliments. Be an obsessive encourager. Or in the words of the great Dale Carnegie, give honest, sincere appreciation.

But Mr. Carnegie warned against flattery, which is appreciation that is unwarranted, undeserved or simply given with the intent to butter up someone and get something in return.

So how do you make sure your compliments are sincere? Well, there are always multiple ways to look at something. A glass can be half empty or half full.

So it’s all in the framing and how you manage your innate negativity bias.

Your innate negativity bias. Stop it!

It’s wired into our DNA. Our natural tendency is to register negative stimuli and to even dwell on them. In our Noblahblah coaching of public speakers, we have a simple response to this bias. Stop it!

If you want to spread gratitude and appreciation, you must make a conscious choice to do so. You must give yourself the assignment to look closely into the world of your audience (whomever they may be), and look for behavior, attitudes and skills you genuinely appreciate.

It’s your choice. You decide what to look for. You decide what you see. You decide how you express appreciation.

Three practical tips to send positive vibes

Once you have given yourself the mission to be a source of positive vibes, it’s good to build your appreciation, gratitude and compliment skills. Here are three proven tips. (I use them all the time.)

1. Something they work hard for and don’t often hear

Recognize skills or behavior in which the person has invested time and energy to achieve something of value that they bring to the table.

Tread carefully with compliments about physical attributes. For instance, someone who has beautiful eyes will probably hear compliments about that more often. They may even find compliments about their eyes annoying. Look deeper to find your sources of appreciation.

2. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

It’s an old expression, and it’s true. When you imitate something another person does, you show that you admire that person and value their skill or behavior. Never miss an opportunity to show someone you are imitating an attitude or action you appreciate. (Avoid plagiarism and forgery of course.)

3. Use the most powerful word in our language: Help!

Asking for help, assistance or advice is a powerful compliment. Almost everyone is happy and feels valued when they see that their opinion counts or their skills can contribute something of worth.

If you would like more tips to spread the joy, here are 9 phrases to instantly brighten someone’s day by happiness expert Stephanie Harrison.

Ripples of hope… and positive vibes

In 1966, US Senator Robert Kennedy, the brother of President John F. Kennedy, visited South Africa. Senator Kennedy visited by invitation of the anti-Apartheid National Union of South African Students.

His speech included the famous “ripples of hope” passage, expressing the belief that human history is shaped each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve a lot of others.

When you commit to compliments, you create positive ripples. And don’t save them for your TED talk. You are “onstage” and persuading all the time.

  • In that project meeting at work

  • At that networking event

  • At the coffee machine when you bump into your manager or team lead

  • At dinner with your friends

  • Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera

Compliments. They’re everywhere

Compliments are out there. Everywhere. All over the place. Just waiting for you to find them, express them and share them.

Compliments are easy. They are fun. They are effective. You just have to get yourself into the compliment state of mind. To show respect and connect.

So be generous with compliments. Always compliment your audience. Onstage and off. To persuade. To feel good. To be happy.

Howard Lettinga, Managing Partner & Executive Trainer, Noblahblah

Howard Lettinga has more than 30 years of experience as a speechwriter and communication specialist at one of the largest high-tech companies in the Netherlands. He has written hundreds of presentations and worked with hundreds of speakers. He is also the former head speaker coach and current curator of TEDx Venlo, and an experienced speaker on Presenting with Impact, based on his “TED Tools for Life” TED talk. He is a specialist in marketing communications, story development, connecting with the audience, presenting business information with impact… and compliments!

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Noblahblah, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

We are on a mission to save the world from blah blah blah.

Noblahblah was founded in 2018 as a training company to support better public speaking. Today we offer a broad range of trainings and coaching that help our customers develop their full potential by communicating with more confidence and more fun, on stage, online and in person.

Noblahblah trainings provide professionals with new skills to present more persuasively, to define and communicate their unique personal brand with more impact, and to literally shine online by building and engaging their LinkedIn network. A special focal point is harnessing the power of diversity and inclusion by cross-cultural trainings and through our Women Shine with Personal Branding workshops and our Women Raising Women interviews.

Our customers include Fortune 500 companies, universities, start-ups and scale-ups.

Based in the Netherlands, our five executive trainers, from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany, bring a diversity of skills and experience.

While our core activity is communication trainings, we offer a range of related services, from speechwriting and copywriting to executive speaker coaching to corporate events design and moderation.



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