How do you know when you have really connected with your audience? As a speaker and a workshop facilitator, I watch for these signs that my audience is connecting with me: Do I remember their names at the end of the session? How many people came up to me on breaks or after the session with a question or comment? How many connections did we make regarding our backgrounds, home towns, or the subject matter? And of course, how enthusiastic were they about the content?
If I walk away with no connections, I know I didn't do my job completely. To me, making connections with my audience is key. If they are unmoved and untouched, the content won't stick. If your audience connects with with you, chances are better that they will hear and remember your content.
Next time you are presenting or training, see if you can plan and execute a presentation or experience that connects you with the audience, and them with the content and each other. Here are some pointers for building a more connected experience:
- Prepare your presentation with your audience first on your mind. As you begin the process of preparing your content, think about your audience. If you know them fairly well, see if you can answer these questions: Why are they attending your presentation? What do they hope to learn or accomplish? What do they already know about the subject matter? What is their opinion of what you have to say? How will this presentation help them be a better person, do a better job, etc.? The answers to these questions should inform your choice of language, level of detail, even the look and feel of your slides. Make it “all about them.”
- Learn more about your audience. If you don't know your audience well, or you couldn’t answer the questions above, then learn more about them. Talk to the person who contacted you about the speaking or training event and ask. See if you can create a survey and mail it to them ahead of the session. Maybe you could run a mini pilot program or focus group to get to know a few representative of the group. Or attend one of their meetings or sessions. At the very least, read up on their organization and their industry, so you have an idea what’s on their minds.
- Connect with them even before the session. Many meeting organizers send out reminders and marketing materials. Make sure yours highlights your industry knowledge, your experience, and most of all, the value you are bringing them with your presentation. Invite questions and comments ahead of your talk. Share your bio and your picture so they get a feel for who you are.
- Get there early. If it is out of town, arrive the day before if at all possible so you can get a feel for their city. At the very least, arrive at the venue and hour or more ahead of your starting time so you can locate and set up your materials, slides, and take stock of your surroundings. Once you are set up and ready to go, focus on your audience members and what value you are bringing them.
- Meet and greet. Once you are set up and ready, early arrivals may be starting to filter in. Welcome them, introduce yourself, and chat. Ask them questions like why they decided to attend, what is happening in their organization, or what they hope to learn from you. Make friends with as many people as you can before your session begins. At the same time, you are learning about the audience and making connections with them.
- Ask for a show of hands. An effective connection with an audience is a key question asked early on, and followed by a show of hands. “How many of you X?” is an easy format, gives you a rapid response, and opens the door to audience engagement. Just be sure to plan your question or questions ahead of time so that they are interesting, fresh, and lead you to a connection with audience members.
- Take a poll. Similar to asking a question, you might consider using a polling device with a large group, or having table groups complete a brief survey and them report out what they learned. Polling provides quick information that helps you learn about your audience, and for them to learn about each other.
- Get closer to them. If you can help it, don’t stand behind a lectern or table. Get a clicker for your slides and move about the room in a calm, deliberate fashion. Try to eliminate all barriers between you and your audience. If they tend to sit closer to the back, perhaps you can move closer to them.
- Make better eye contact with them. Spend as much time with eye contact as possible, and as little as possible looking at your slides, notes or the ceiling. Eye contact is mainly a habit, and one you should build if you want to make great connections with your audience.
- Pay attention to what they are wearing. Or their names, or the color of their eyes. The main thing is to reach out mentally and connect with them. Don’t wait for them to connect with you. Be real. Have fun. Care. If you do, you can forge a great connection.