Create A Personal Connection Before You Speak
by Bill Cole, MS, MA

   You sell yourself and your company every time you speak. You may be "speaking" to an "audience" of one or one hundred or one thousand. Maybe you do team sales presentations, or you speak to market yourself. Whatever the reason and venue, you want to make a positive impact, influence your audience, and move them to action. To do that, you have to make a connection with them. You need to build rapport.
   You may be surprised to learn that building a connection with your audience begins far before you speak your first word. Just as you need to warm up your mind and body for a performance, you also need to warm up your audience. Do that and they will be far more receptive to what you have to say.

Warm Up Your Audience Before You Even Show Up

   Your audience hopes they are coming to hear you say something valuable and pertinent to them. They want your material to relate to their needs, wants and desires. If you deliver a canned presentation that isn't customized for them, they feel their time has been wasted. They also want to know who you are as a person. If you wait to build rapport until you first walk out to meet your audience, you'll miss an important advance connection with them. You'll probably also make yourself unnecessarily uncomfortable, and your awkwardness will be transmitted to your audience. The result? A poor emotional connection. A poor speech. How do you make sure your efforts will be on target? Part of the answer is in making a personal connection and seeking their input before your program begins. Here are five ways you can build excellent, fast rapport with your audience in advance.

  • Call key audience members and ask what they hope to get out of your program.
  • E-mail the entire audience, asking to send you questions they may want answered in your program. This helps you creatively and precisely customize your program.
  • Interview any previous speakers to gauge the audience's personality.
  • Send a survey to everyone and present the results of that survey in your program.
  • Interview a few people in depth and weave that information into your talk.

   Most importantly, you want to show your audience that you respect them for spending their valuable upcoming time with you. They'll know you care. They'll know you're not just some big-ego speaker with no time for "the little people". They'll begin to like you, and that's critical in helping you create quick rapport with people, and in paving a smooth pathway into your speech.

Deepen Your Rapport-Building On Site

   Now you're ready to show up for your program. You've connected with your audience in advance, you've customized their data into your program, and all is ready. Knowing you're mentally and emotionally ready to perform, you can now "work your audience" to create a deeper rapport and connection before "the show" begins. This is where the real immediate audience connection magic happens.
   As people arrive in your presentation room, greet them. Shake their hands. Use their names. Mention that you appreciate their sending you some great material you are going to use in your program. Smile. Try to meet as many people as you can. You do this to gauge the mood of the group and look for anyone who might be hostile or in a bad mood, so you can unruffle their feathers in advance, saving you trouble once you are on the platform. You want to make as many friends as possible and reduce any potential problems from "hecklers", ahead of time.
   Enjoy practicing your new rapport-building skills. Next month we'll learn advanced techniques to help you connect more deeply with your audience during your program.