3 Guaranteed Techniques for Igniting a Rapport with Your Audience

May 30, 2012

It is said that 75 percent of audience members check their Blackberry the minute a speaker steps to the podium. The other 25 percent are thinking about lunch.

Is this true? I don’t have actual data to support the claim, but I’m sure it got your attention.

I’m always astounded when a speaker begins a presentation with the old chestnut, “Today I’m going to talk to you about (insert arcane topic).

It might be a comfortable and accurate way to launch into a presentation but all it does is tell the audience what they probably already know. It’s most likely in the agenda. Let’s call it a “cold start” and a clear signal to the audience that it’s time to check the Blackberry.

Presentations are many things to speakers. They are dreaded. They are time consuming. They are often stressful and nerve wracking. But, there is one thing a presentation should never be – routine.

Surprisingly, presentations are actually not about delivering data to an audience. If data transmission were the sole objective, you could send a written memo and save yourself and the audience a lot of pain.

A presentation is – above all – about a personal, face-to-face connection with an audience. It’s an opportunity to tell a story. Perhaps the only reason to speak to a group is so that they can get to know you, become a part of your world for a little while, and understand the kind of person you are. Yet so often, the mental calisthenics of developing and delivering a “formal presentation” only serve to create a chilling and immediate barrier between you and the very audience you’re trying to reach.

I’m on a mission to thaw out the “cold start.” Here are three guaranteed techniques for igniting an instant rapport with your audience:

Romance the Room – Your first 30 seconds are critical to grabbing the interest and attention of the audience. Let’s face it – with remote controls, smart phones and Twitter we are all members of the “ADD Nation.” We need someone to help us focus. Think of the first 30 seconds of your presentation as a form of speed dating. You want to quickly spark a relationship…so SMILE. Look the audience in its collective eye. Gaze at that audience like each individual is THE most important person in the world. You have a goal here, and it’s to get beyond first base.

Engage in Instant Storytelling – The “cold start” has a frosty effect on your speed dating efforts.   Start your story as soon as the clock starts ticking. Take a look at the top of this post. In 28 words, I teed up a proposition that hopefully got you thinking. It might be a challenge, a surprising anecdote or a provocative statement, but whatever it is, make sure it’s compelling, insightful and powerful enough to get the audience to sit up, put the Blackberry aside and pay attention to you … immediately.

Express to Impress – The last thing you want is for that audience to perceive you as just another in a lengthy parade of corporate talking heads.  Successful presentations require a touch of audacity. You’ve got to be a little bigger than life if you want to be remembered, especially with the Blackberry in easy reach. While it’s not necessary to stand on your head, fill the room and play to the balcony. Summon up that extra 10 percent of energy. Use your physical and verbal tools to show that you care about what you have to say, and that your audience should as well.

Tom Barritt is Partner and Managing Director of Ketchum’s Communications Training Network, a team of executive media coaches. He has helped executives shape stories that get noticed for nearly three decades.