How to Connect with Any Audience
When you analyse it more closely, a speech is just like any other conversation. The presenter is tasked with communicating information to a person or people, and to do this they need to build rapport.
But with modern technology, and an onslaught of information available at everyone’s fingertips, it can be very difficult to break through the noise barrier at times. Your job as a public speaker is to make a connection with the audience so that they will be more open and receptive to accepting and retaining your core message, amidst all the distraction in the room.
If you fail to grab your audience’s attention, you will lose their interest, and your speech will be a complete waste of time. With that in mind this post outlines five simple ways to connect with any audience.
1) Get to Know the Audience In Advance
Introducing yourself to people as they enter the room or make themselves comfortable in the audience is a great way to build rapport and gain supporters in the crowd. Meet members of the audience, shake their hands and talk with them. By doing this you are demonstrating that you’re approachable and personable.
You may even learn a few names that you can reference during the presentation. People love to receive recognition, especially if it’s acknowledgment in front of peers. So when you’re speaking it can be beneficial to name drop from time to time – that is, to drop names of people who are in the audience while you’re speaking – another excellent way to engage the crowd.
As an added bonus, having conversations with the audience ahead of time transforms scary ‘public’ speaking into relaxed ‘personal’ speaking by putting you at ease. Learn more in the guide to preparing for a speech.
2) Identify the Listener’s Needs
No matter what the topic, you should always see the presentation as an opportunity to serve your audience, not to impress or “sell” to them. In preparing for a speech the aim should be to build a presentation tailored to one audience, on one occasion, presented by one presenter, conveying one story, with one purpose.
The WIIFY (the what’s in it for you) is the benefit to the specific audience in your persuasive situation.
In order to begin thinking about your audience’s needs, ask:
- Who will be most likely to attend this presentation?
- What might some of the beliefs or ideas of this audience be?
- What does this audience already know about the topic?
- What specific background information will they need to understand the concept?
- What type of language should I use to gain this audience’s respect and attention?
Most people pick a topic and write a speech completely independently without any input from the potential audience. Instead flip that process around. Find out what your audience wants to hear, then talk about that.
3) Tell a Personal Story
A good way to make connections is by telling stories. People can relate to stories, particularly personal stories from everyday life. For example a story from your childhood. Of course, we’re all familiar with “Once upon a time…” Many stories start by describing either a place or a time in this way. The idea is to paint a picture in the mind of your listener of where/when the story occurred. If you really want to make a connection with your audience, get personal.
A classic example of storytelling can be seen in the brilliant Stanford commencement address Steve Jobs gave in 2005. “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life,” Jobs said at the outset of the speech. “That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.” Jobs then proceeded to use the three stories as the basis for his larger message, including points about “connecting the dots” in your life and how major life setbacks can be a blessing in disguise.
Learn more about storytelling in presentations here
4) Make Eye Contact
Many people say they don’t know how well they connect with their audience. Getting audience feedback is an art. One sure certain way of getting instant feedback on whether or not your audience is engaged is by looking at them!
The most effective way to build rapport is by making eye contact. In a large room, it’s easy to lift your head up without ever really seeing anybody. That is, you scan the audience constantly and never let your eyes land.
The correct way to make eye contact is by forcing yourself to look at one single person while you make a point. Get out the whole idea before letting your eyes move to the next person and so on. Sticking with one person for each point is nearly impossible if you are not truly connecting your material to that person and so it is a great real-time test.
Find out more about the secrets of effective eye contact here.
5) Smile & Be Happy
Great speakers always convey a sense that they love being there – that there’s nothing else in the world they’d rather be doing right now than speaking to us. A smile certainly engenders good feelings and a true connection. And best of all, if you smile at your audience, they are likely to smile back at you!
HOT TIP: Start out smiling! Smile at your introducer and smile at the audience prior to speaking. Then you have made a memorable and smiling first impression to build on during the speech. End with a smile, too! Leave your audience with the lingering feeling that you enjoyed them as an audience.
Are You Ready to Connect?
The art of public speaking is actually the art of connecting. If you can connect with a room full of people, then you can also connect with an audience of one. Connect with people in your next speech by:
- Getting to know the audience in advance
- Identifying the listener’s needs when preparing
- Telling a personal story in the speech
- Making effective eye contact throughout
- Smiling as you speak