Are You Connecting With Your Audience, Even Before You Start Speaking?
As the guest speaker, you've never met the audience gathered in this room. Are you ready? Yes, you've prepared a well-thought-out message. Your experience and expertise certainly qualify you to speak on the given subject. If you bring innate abilities and learned competencies as a speaker to the podium, that's a definite plus. One last thing: don't forget to connect immediately with your audience. After all, your goal is to win this audience over. The sooner, the better.
By "connecting immediately" I'm actually referring to connections you start making prior to your presence at the podium. From the moment you step foot in the room where the meeting is being held, to the moment you are introduced as the speaker, you can begin front-loading the connection factor and calibrate any presentation to the audience's receptivity.
After decades of making public presentations, I have discovered three ways to connect immediately with a new audience---even before I start speaking. Trust me. The following tips really work.
Tip # 1: Arrive Early & Focus On A Few.
As the invited speaker, plan to arrive early. If the meeting gets started a little late, all the better. This gives ample time to strike up conversations with two or three other early arrivers. Take those few extra minutes to learn people's names. Ask them to tell you a thing or two about themselves. You'll begin to appreciate their individuality, and you'll also get a snapshot of the diversity of the audience.
Next, consider how your presentation to the audience will also be a conversation with these few people. Ask yourself, "How is my topic going to register with these two or three different persons, their professions, their philosophies and their perspectives?"
Then, when you're at the podium, scan the audience and make eye contact with each of them. Throughout the talk be aware of any feedback they are giving through facial expressions or body language. Are they "leaning in" to your talk or have they checked out? Depending on their responses and reactions you can adjust, modulate or modify the delivery of your message.
Connecting by focusing on a few is a dashboard of sorts, providing real time indicators of how your presentation is impacting different people in the audience.
Tip # 2: Tune In To The Preliminaries.
When there's a slew of announcements and the preliminaries run over time, does this frustrate you as the guest speaker? Do you get anxious because this overage is eating up your allotted presentation time? If so, you're missing an opportunity to front-load the connection factor and calibrate your soon-to-be-delivered talk.
Go with the flow and practice speaker mindfulness instead. Be observant, tune in and listen to what is going on in the meeting prior to your turn at the podium. What are the attendees talking about around the table? What updates did the emcee or Chair of the meeting just share? Even an incidental announcement is a dot you can connect with. Then, early in your talk, make an intentional comment about that seemingly random dot. By doing this you signal that you are "present" in the moment, for that meeting, on that day.
Currency with an audience is gained when a speaker enters the group's community, continuity and context. It's proof positive that you are mindful, attentive and engaged with them. In addition to your experience and expertise, your comment on their moment goes far in earning you their ear.
Tip # 3: Leverage The Why In The Room.
Audiences gather around shared commitments, concerns and causes. Or, as Simon Sinek might put it, every audience has a "Why." This is critically important to understand because, regardless of your topic, what matters most is what matters most to your audience.
If you aim to connect with your audience, then be prepared to expound on how your topic has relevance to their "Why." A well-prepared speaker will have researched this in advance of the meeting. But once in the room and in the minutes prior to your presentation you can assess and confirm if your assumption about the audience's "Why" is true.
This is the perfect time to conduct a room reconnaissance:
Scan the printed program for key words;
Glance up at the logo on the screen above the podium;
Watch the group dynamics as they recite a mission statement in concert;
Ask yourself, "Is there anything in my presentation that connects explicitly with the key words, logo or credo? Is there an analogy or a comparison I can make?"
The onus is on you, the speaker, to make that singular and specific connection with the audience's "Why." Be ready to abbreviate or edit your presentation on the spot so that the correlation is made and the relevance of your topic is underscored, understood, can't be missed and speaks louder than all of your other prepared talking points.
A Final Thought. Or Two. Or Three.
As I mentioned, these tips really do work. But once your immediate connections with a new audience are made, be forewarned: these tips begin to work in reverse. On you. The speaker.
Your focus on a few will be returned by the few. With laser beam intensity, and throughout the duration of your presentation, those two or three individuals you met earlier and now embedded in the audience will hold you accountable for every next word that comes out of your mouth. Make sure those words are the most appropriate, most accessible, most authentic you can share. They're listening.
Your comment on their moment earned you their ear. Are you ready to give them your ear? After the meeting is over, and before you exit the room, stay for a few more minutes. Let members of the audience engage with you and comment on your moment behind the podium. You may surprised at what they really heard.
You leveraged the "Why" in the room to inform, instruct, influence, inspire, or incite the audience towards an understanding of your topic. If you're willing, the audience will reciprocate. Fortunate is the guest speaker who leaves the room more informed, instructed, influenced, inspired or incited by the audience. Think about it. The speaker---won over. The sooner, the better. Are you ready?