Certain people possess the ability to instantly create rapport with anyone. For purposes of this article, whether you agree with the message from people you have come in contact with who enjoy this skill is not important. What I want you to focus on is their ability to immediately establish rapport, identify the issue or message at hand, and simply deliver their version of the truth to the audience in an almost effortless way.
For a leader, it takes a number of years to have put oneself in enough situations to effectively learn through trial and error how to handle a variety of situations to obtain the desired result. These situations appear in daily life as one-on-one conversations, speeches, sales pitches, legal proceedings, and are often disguised as everyday tasks.
Personally, I have been in leadership positions since I was a young man. Each role I served provided me with new opportunities to practice my speaking skills and learn how to interact effectively, even persuasively, with others. As an adult, I have worked successfully in business development roles, served as a spokesperson for organizations, delivered hundreds of days of training, and spoken effectively at a number of trade association events. Each time, I was challenged with connecting my audience with a specific, intended message.
While there is no substitute for practice, I’ve distilled my experience from thousands of speaking engagements, sales meetings, training sessions and daily client interactions down to this short, yet powerful list of techniques for connecting with any audience. Keep this list close, and you will begin to receive feedback that you are becoming one of those great connectors like the ones you have admired for so many years.
- Look at your audience. Whether you have an audience of one or one thousand, if you cannot look your audience in the eye, they will never believe you. (Hint: For larger audiences, pick out a handful of friendly-looking people in various parts of the room and talk to them.)
- Have a message. You should be able to sum up the point of your message in less than 15 seconds. If that is proving difficult, your topic may not be clear. Choose an example of an ideal audience member, and write your speech in a way that would connect with that one person. Be clear about how you want your audience to think or act differently about when you are done speaking.
- Move with a purpose. Nervous energy often manifests itself during your speech or conversation as unnecessary motion. Gestures can be helpful in demonstrating a point, but moving unnecessarily can prove very distracting for your audience, thus causing your message to be lost in the action.
- Appearance matters. The general rule of thumb is to dress one step above that of your audience. Even if your “audience” is a group of your co-workers or your boss. No matter how much you know (or think you know), if you look the part, you will receive greater respect.
- Use vocal variety. Simply stated, this means you should not let your message be dry and dull, from a vocal standpoint. One technique I often find helpful is to build up my volume as I’m building toward a point, pause for a beat, then deliver the final point with intensity but in a much lower volume. It often comes across with much more power than you might imagine.
- Don’t rush. The pace of your message should fit the time allotted and the rhythm of the meeting. Giving your audience information as if they are drinking from a fire hose only proves to them how big you perceive your own ego to be…or more often, how unorganized your remarks are proving to be.
- Don’t patronize your audience. Be confident. Be honest. Utilize the steps above. If your audience disagrees or doesn’t get your point, it is your fault…not theirs. Be gracious and smile. You’ll live to speak another day. There is never a time it is okay to be rude or hateful as a presenter (unless you have been invited to deliver a few words at a celebrity roast).