If you’re looking for a few simple but effective ways to instantly connect with an audience, even a tough audience, try these:
ASK A COUPLE OF MEANINGFUL QUESTIONS. Don’t make them difficult questions, of course. Questions literally get you into an active dialogue with your audience, even if you’re simply asking a yes or no question that requires nothing more than raised hands or nods.
Even more effective in some situations are questions that require real answers from the audience. For example, at ESI we always began by asking attendees what common traits they see in effective speakers. We begin a list on the blackboard or flipchart. This loosens people up every time. It gives us information about our audience, and begins to acquaint us with their personalities, too.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Look at your audience, see them, realize they’re real people and decide what you want from them. Do you want to surprise them, stir them, interest them, inspire them, make them change, amuse them, make a friend of them? Define your goal and go after it.
USE FACTS AND FEELINGS. Individuals respond differently and learn differently, and it’s our job as communicators to meet them where they are. To communicate in a variety of ways.
One of the broadest differences in our audience members is between those who learn from facts and those who learn from feelings. You can reach them both.
For example when we want to impress upon our ESI attendees the importance of passion for our subject, Ty often refers to a Bowling Green University study of teaching effectiveness, using statistics to illustrate that a higher percentage of students – 90 percent, in fact – prefer teachers with passion over teachers who only know the facts. It’s the same information, but delivered using a different method. Everybody in the room connects with either the statistics or the storytelling, the facts or the feelings. Use both and you’ll discover you connect with everyone in the audience.
LOOK THEM IN THE EYE. Chapter Six of “The Million Dollar Toolbox” includes information on effective eye contact. Read it, learn it, use it. Don’t be afraid to look them in the eye.
BE VULNERABLE. We must learn to be private and public, to be open and trusting and so guarded. That doesn’t mean telling all about your escapades. It might mean demonstrating one of your points by telling the story of a time when you missed the boat entirely. It might even be as simple as pausing at powerful moments, allowing your emotions to show. It is the willingness not to be perfect. To laugh at yourself. To enjoy the moment.
But remember this: it never means telling them you’re afraid or unprepared. That makes them nervous. So keep that one to yourself.