Ways to build audience rapport before you step onto the stage
I recall with dread the many times I was positioned backstage or seated at a table close to the stage waiting for my name to be called to present. I could hear the introducer reading my bio and suddenly, “Ta Da!” – here she is Mari Pat Varga… I would bound onto the stage full of energy but I could instantly tell that my audience wasn’t quite there with me yet. They had already heard a bunch of other speakers and now me – someone they really didn’t know from Adam. Because of that, they spent the first few moments of my presentation checking me out. “Boy, she’s tall…” “I don’t recognize her name…who is she?” “I love that suit but not so crazy about the shoes…” “I hope she’ll be good…”
Can you relate? It’s normal human behavior. When we first meet or see someone we spend a few moments trying to size them up or figure them out. While this may be a normal reaction, it is one I’d rather avoid.
Our goal as presenters is to make a connection with the audience and create a feeling of rapport. There are a few very specific things you can do to avoid what I like to call the “Ta Da Dilemma”.
- Interview in advance – for any high stakes presentation request the names of members of the audience so that you can get a feel for the group and reference those interviews during your talk. Your conversation with those individuals will spread, promoting good will, as folks share that they spoke with you.
- Master the mingle – Whenever possible arrive to the event early and mingle with as many audience members as you can before your presentation. This will help you feel familiar to the audience and will give you exposure to them before you hit the platform.
- Use their names, their words – While mingling, gather audience intel so that you can mirror their voice during your talk. “During the reception, I spoke with Susan Carter, who shared with me that, for her, what’s most important in the workplace is…” “Earlier, John Jones, commented that our biggest opportunity is…” Referring to these comments will help promote a sense of community.
- Speak before hitting the stage – Rather than the silent long walk to the stage, begin speaking the minute your bum leaves your seat so that you appear spontaneous and conversational.
- Fine-tune your intro – Make sure your introduction includes not only your professional expertise and background but also some personal factoids that will make you instantly more relatable to your audience. “In addition, Carol is from Chicago where she lives with her husband, three teenagers (yes, you can commiserate with her later) and believe it or not, five golden retrievers! Please help me welcome Carol…”
In my Chicago communication training programs, my students are at first surprised that I like to focus equally on delivery and all that happens leading up to it. It is powerful to discover that you can create the best possible presentation environment for you to succeed and your audience to enjoy. Never again will you have to face the Ta D Dilemma!