When giving a speech or presentation we are essentially tasked with communicating information.

One of the best ways to do this is by building rapport; to make a connection with our audience so that they will be more open and receptive to accepting and retaining our message. If we fail to connect with our audience and grab (and hold) their attention, they will lose interest, and our speech will not be effective.

Dave Linehan is from Toastmasters International and he suggests five simple ways to connect with an audience:

  1. Get to know them in advance

Introducing yourself to people as they enter the room is a great way to build rapport and gain supporters. This demonstrates that we are genuine and approachable.

Then when speaking it can be beneficial to drop in some of the names of people with whom we’ve spoken. People love to be recognised, and it’s an excellent way to connect with the audience.

  1. Identify their needs

No matter what the topic is, the presentation is an opportunity to serve our audience, not to impress or “sell” to them.

Build a presentation tailored to one audience, on one occasion, presented by one presenter, conveying one story, with one purpose.

Ask yourself:

  • Who will be most likely to attend?
  • What might some of the beliefs or ideas of this audience be?
  • What does this audience already know about the topic?
  • What specific background information will they need to understand the concept?
  • What type of language is needed to gain their respect and attention?

Find out what the audience wants to hear, then talk about that.

  1. Tell a personal story

People can relate to stories, particularly personal stories from our lives.

Many stories start by describing either a place or a time. The idea is to paint a picture in the mind of our listeners of where/when the story occurred.

A great example of storytelling can be seen in the brilliant Stanford commencement address Steve Jobs gave in 2005. “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life.” said Jobs who then proceeded to use the three stories as the basis for his larger message, including points about “connecting the dots” in your life and how major life setbacks can be a blessing in disguise.

  1. Make eye contact

In a large room, it’s easy to look out at the audience without ever really seeing anybody. That is, we scan the audience constantly and never let our eyes land. Instead, force yourself to look at one single person while you make a point. Get out the whole idea before letting your eyes move to the next person. Sticking with one person for each point is nearly impossible if you are not truly connecting your material to that person and so it is a great real-time test.

  1. Smile and be happy

Great speakers always convey a sense that they love being there and that there’s nothing else in the world they’d rather be doing than speaking right now. A smile certainly engenders good feelings and creates a connection.

The art of public speaking is actually the art of connecting. If you can connect with a room full of people, then you can also connect with an audience of one. And the people we remember most are not those with the smartest commentary or sharpest wit. We remember people best when we connect with them.

Dave Linehan is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 332,000 in more than 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members.

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