Q. How do you connect with an audience right away? Do you ask them how they are doing? Or does that lead to unwanted responses?
A. I agree with you, connecting with your audience, especially from the beginning, is critical. If you miss your mark it is hard to regain it later, and if you hit the mark, your entire presentation will go better.
You know your audience best. If they will start grumbling if you give them an opening, don’t give them that opening. (Other audiences will just stare at you when you ask them how they are.) Instead, start with a closed ended question that you probably know the answer to, and possibly ask for a show of hands. For example, “How many of you are tired of the rework issues we are having? Me too, so this is what I recommend….” You just showed them you understand their feelings about the subject matter, and you have a solution or an approach.
If you don’t like using a question, try this: “Many of you have said you are tired of the rework issues we are having, and that is exactly what we are here to discuss.” It is not as interactive, but you did demonstrate that you understand their concerns. One other thought: get to the meeting room early and circulate. Ask people informally how they are and what is on their minds. You just broke the ice and I would bet you are feeling more comfortable and so is your audience.