We all know the benefits of having the audience on our side. A 10-minute speech can feel like 2 seconds with an engaged audience and a never-ending nightmare with a bored or disconnected audience. Connecting with your audience is such a vital part of delivering a successful speech or presentation.
Even if it doesn’t produce the results you want, if it educated the audience, generated some laughs, and produced heartfelt applause at the end (no matter how loud), you shouldn’t write it off as a failure.
Sometimes our presentations have the effect we want, sometimes they don’t. What really matters is that we create that connection and leave our audiences better off than before. Trust and connection precede action, after all.
If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your audience connections when you speak or present, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a no-nonsense, to-the-point guide for building better rapport with your audience when presenting in person.
How to Build Great Rapport and Win Your Audience
Be genuine in your approach
Firstly, you have to make any talk, speech or presentation you give personal.
Speakers often mistakenly believe that the audience is there to listen to their presentation, but they’re there to listen to you. People bond with you, not your presentation.
The first step to building audience rapport is to be genuine when you present.
Put on a persona or an act and the audience will smell it from a mile away and they’ll be put off from the get-go. No one likes dishonesty, after all. Rather forgo any words or actions that don’t feel true to who you are. If you’re a little nervous, be a little nervous.
If you’re confident, then smile and show it. If you forget something or make an obvious mistake, keep going. The audience will appreciate your candour and still connect with you as long as you’re showing them who you really are.
Analyze the audience
Connecting with your audience requires you to understand your audience. Why should they listen to you or care about what you have to say? What topical thread unites them? You know that they’re there to listen to you, but unless you understand why, you’re speaking at them and not to them.
Try to think about why they’re coming to listen to you in the first place. What problem are you solving? What important issue are you highlighting and how will it benefit or impact them? Once you understand what your audience cares about, you’ll be able to tailor your presentation message to their specific interests or pain points.
You won’t be able to cover everything, instead focus on what unites everyone in the room – and make that the anchor that connects you with them.
Be inclusive in your language
Remember the campaign that helped Obama win the 2008 US elections? It was “Yes we can” not “Yes I can” or “Yes you can”. The “we” made all the difference in the world. Why? Well, inclusive pronouns send the message to your audience that you’re on their side, are rooting for them and, most importantly, understand them.
Using inclusive pronouns will create an unspoken connection between you and your audience that’s built on mutual trust and respect.
There’s a big difference between saying “You have a problem” or “you need to do this” compared to “We have a problem” or “we need to do this”. Saying “You” and “I” primarily throughout your talk can alienate your audience and make them feel responsible for solving their problem.
On the other hand, saying “we” implies that you, as the speaker, want to work with the audience to solve the problem together. That shared sense of capability will help develop rapport.
Reference the present
It’s no coincidence that climate change activists talk about the effect climate change is having right now on the planet, even though we’ll only really start to see the effects decades in the future.
That’s because people tend to think in the present. We may daydream about the future or recall something in the past, but the present is where we live our lives.
Talking about something that can only happen at X point or will kick into effect at X time is one of the fastest ways to disconnect your audience from your words. People care about the future, but they care about now more.
How does what you’re saying affect your audience now? If your speech or presentation is geared towards solving a problem or boosting some sort of efficiency, try to link to benefits the audience will enjoy now instead of sometime in the future. Think about the issues your audience is currently facing and factor them into your thoughts and ideas.
Make your audience the hero of their story, not you
Our Missing Link maestro Rich Mulholland once said “Make the audience the hero of their story” and it’s something we stand by to this day. The initial thought every audience member has whenever you start speaking is “Why should I care?” It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way human beings operate.
If the bulk of your talk is you explaining how you did this or achieved that, it’s going to come across as some very heavy back-patting – and it won’t resonate with your audience.
To be clear, we’re not saying don’t talk about yourself, you definitely can as long as what you’re saying relates to your audience. Talk about something you did but then connect it to your audience – explain how what you’re saying benefits them or things you learned that they could find useful.
Remember, even if this is your presentation, this is your audience’s story and you’re not trying to be the hero – you’re trying to make them the hero.
Your audience will connect with you if you make your speech about them, so make sure you keep them front and center in your talk. If you adopt an audience-centered approach in all of your presentations, you’ll build instant rapport during and after you present.
Building rapport and establishing a connection with your audience is crucial to getting your message across successfully. Be yourself, be in the present and keep your audience at the forefront of your mind and you should knock it out of the park every time!
Want to learn how to craft a preso that will smash the daydreams and grab the attention of every audience member? Sign up for our interactive Boredom Slayers Presentation Series. We’ll teach you all the hacks you need to overcome audience apathy and connect with conviction and meaning.