I posted the last time on the importance of the voice for an empathetic connection with your audience. Of course, speakers who want to up their game will work on all possible ways of improving that connection; connecting with an audience is a goal all speakers want to achieve.
And it can be tricky. Becoming an intentional communicator is hard, deliberate, time-consuming work. How can you ensure that your connection with your audience is quick and durable? By remembering that a connected communication is reciprocal, consistent, and social.
People feel obligated to listen if you’ve listened to them. Some self-absorbed people never reciprocate, but most of us do because the golden rule is deeply baked into our psyches. So a good way to begin to communicate is to find out what the other person (or audience) has on its mind.
A classic mistake that many speakers make when they begin to address an audience, in either informal settings or more formal presentations, is to begin “by introducing myself.” What’s wrong with that, you ask? Isn’t it polite to introduce yourself? Doesn’t the audience want to know why I have the expertise to address them?
Well, yes, but either get someone else to introduce you – a third party can say those things that it would sound boastful for you to say – or introduce yourself, but not right away. You don’t want to squander those first precious moments with an audience by running the credits! Think of how Hollywood typically starts a movie these days: first we get a bit of action, in order to draw us into the story, then the credits run underneath some activity, or, if they do stop the action, it’s only after a thrilling opening scene.
Otherwise, the first five minutes or so of a talk is all about the speaker. Nothing could be less engaging for the audience. Why should it care?
A much better way is to begin by showing that you understand the audience’s problems. Even better is to get the audience to tell you their problems. Either way is more connecting and involving than the self-introduction.
Second, connected communication is consistent. We don’t like to experience ourselves as inconsistent, so if I can snare your attention once, I’m likely to be able to get it again unless I’ve abused the privilege. People prefer the familiar to the strange in most things. Why go to all the work of developing a new source or finding a new expert if the old one will do? Once a celebrity, a newscaster, or a politician reaches the top of the heap, the sheer inertia of their audiences will keep them there until they do something egregious enough to warrant pushing them out and finding a replacement. So begin your presentations by stressing your connection with the audience or its celebrities, and stress the familiar aspects of message before the more unusual.
Finally, connected communication is social. If everyone’s doing it, we’re more likely to join in unless we have an oppositional streak. Communications success breeds communications success. This explains fads and the popularity of otherwise inexplicable things (like Barry Manilow). We are social beings, and run in packs. So connect with your audience by stressing the social aspects of your message.
Remember these three tips, work them into your speaking, and keep your connection with the audience strong.