The style of speaking that I advocate on this website is very conversational and personal. It avoids aloofness, it prioritizes making sure your audience likes you and understands exactly what you’re saying. In short, I advocate that you connect with your audience.
You not only want the audience to like you, you want to like them.
How to connect
1. Establish a good first impression.
You can cultivate a good first impression from before you even walk into the room. Being well groomed and wearing appropriate clothing for the situation are important parts of your personal image. Appropriate clothing doesn’t necessarily mean fancy—it depends on what kind of event you’re speaking for. A pretty good rule of thumb, however, is that the clothes should fit well and not be wrinkled.
Smile at the audience as you walk up on stage. If you have an opportunity to meet people before you go up to speak, be cordial. You can then find those people’s friendly faces in the audience while you speak.
2. Show interest in them.
If you have an opportunity for audience interaction, you may consider asking them to tell you about themselves a little bit. Perhaps by hand-raising, for larger groups.
If it’s an informal enough occasion and you’re within earshot of the first row, consider asking them a question. Artists do this all the time during concerts.
3. Establish respect for your audience.
I know that sometimes your audience seems really hard to like. Maybe they are a tough crowd, or perhaps they are hostile to your cause.
You need to get yourself in their shoes and try to empathize with them. Try your hardest to connect with them on some level. If you dislike your audience, it is going to be very hard to effectively communicate to them.
4. Refer to someone in your audience
If you know someone in your audience, mention them specifically. It could be by drawing them into a story you’re telling, or pointing and thanking them for being there.
Obviously, if you don’t know someone in the audience, or the occasion is too formal to do so, don’t. However, this gesture makes people feel like you care about the audience and who is in it.
If you really want to do this but don’t know anyone in the audience, meet a few people before you get up to speak.
5. Research them ahead of time
If you’re invited to speak somewhere unfamiliar, ask the person who invited you about the audience that will be there.
Better yet—create and deploy a survey to them ahead of time with some basic questions. Specifically, insert some questions about what they want to hear from you. What do they want you to talk about?
You’re guaranteed to have a friendly audience if they see that you took the time to personalize your presentation for them.
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