Connecting with the Audience
As a speaker, it is vital to make a personal connection with the audience. Your ability to establish this connection can make the difference between being evaluated positively or negatively, being believed or doubted, or delivering an effective or ineffective presentation. So, how do you make this connection? Simple, focus on identification and immediacy. Identification happens when a speaker emphasizes common values, goals, and experiences that exist between him or her and the audience. Immediacy refers to performing behaviors that increase feelings of liking, pleasure, and closeness in the minds of audience members. Below, tips on achieving identification and immediacy are discussed.
Finding and highlighting common ground between you, the speaker, and the audience is a great way to create identification during a presentation. Identification allows a speaker to remove the invisible barrier that separates the speaker and audience. Try to find and highlight common values, goals, and experiences.
Common Values: Like a very basic audience analysis, think about what values you have in common with audience members. A sense of the difference between right and wrong, a belief in justice, or adhering to the golden rule are all good starting points for common values.
Common Goals: In line with the same thought process as finding common values, think about goals that you are likely to share with audience members. A desire to be a better person, the pursuits of success and happiness, as well as mental and financial security are goals that many people share.
Common Experiences: While all individuals have unique experiences that shape their worldviews, we often have similar experiences in life. Being part of a family or group, falling in love, and experiencing physical or emotional joy and pain are common to the human experience. Also, try using personal stories, as well as "we/us" language instead of an "I/you" style.
Performing certain behaviors during the delivery of a presentation typically improve an audience's evaluation and perception of a speaker. A few simple behaviors that you might try during your next speech are increased eye contact, relaxed posture, and smiling.
Eye Contact: A speaker's ability to make and maintain eye contact during a presentation impacts the audience's evaluations of how likable and trustworthy the speaker is. More eye contact (though you will want to avoid appearing to stare at the audience) is usually associated with higher evaluations of both categories. Remember to limit your notes and maximize your practice time so that you can make eye contact instead of reading your speech.
Relaxed Posture: A stiff speaker is less likely to connect with an audience than is a relaxed speaker. Relaxed speakers move freely and "own" the room, gesture comfortably, and generally seem conversational.
Smiling: Findings from multiple studies suggest that humans rate those who smile as being more attractive than those who do not smile. Sure, you don't want to smile at inappropriate times or maintain a constant smile during your entire presentation, but when appropriate, remember to "say cheese" during your presentation.
Prepared by Carl J. Brown
Information partially adapted from Stephen Lucas' The Art of Public Speaking, Tenth Edition; Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy's Communication Principles for a Lifetime, Fourth Edition