My Sunday morning ritual includes reading the New York Times and the article, Introvert on the Podium caught my attention. The wisdom in this article is that connecting with the audience leads to greater ease in speaking, even for an introvert. Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours” explains how she has gone from paranoid to practiced on the podium. Being an introvert who loves 1:1 interactions, she shares how connecting with individual members of her audience in advance makes her more comfortable on the podium. It also makes her audience more engaged. Introvert of not, this is a wise strategy.
Many speakers are so concentrated on themselves and their material that they forget the whole reason they are speaking is for the audience. Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes improves their experience and your experience. Laura’s way of doing that was to have the conference organizer make audience introductions far in advance, which is an excellent idea if you have that luxury. Another way to learn about your audience in advance is getting the list of companies attending the conference or workshop and then scanning their websites for recent news and case studies. This gives you a good sense of what might be on their minds. You can then add relevant examples to your speech that will foster a connection.
Asking audience questions at the beginning of your speech – either through electronic survey that is now common or through old fashion hand raising – is a smart way to gauge their awareness or interest in a particular subject. Just remember to pause and acknowledge the results of your survey aloud so the audience hears what you see. For example if you are speaking to fellow entrepreneurs on raising capital, you might ask, “How many people here raised money in the past 12 months?” Then say, “I see it is about 25% of you, which likely means that most of you will be looking to raise in the next year when capital is flush and you can be selective about your investors. Let me share with you a few best practices about raising funds in this environment.” Now if 75% of the audience had raised their hand, you would adjust your speech and possibly say, “I see most of us have raised in the past year, so I will start with a few of my best practices and then open the conversation to hear some of your experiences of what worked and what you would change next time.”
In her article, Laura ends with the advice of giving audience members time to talk to one another to improve audience connection and satisfaction. Some people think this only works with small audiences, but I have seen it be very effective even in a very large audience. The key to success if giving very specific instructions and setting (and keeping) a specific time limit. In the above example, after you’ve shared your experience, you could state, “Let’s now pair up and share with your neighbor one thing you would do differently in raising capital next time. Take 2 minutes each in explaining your one lesson learned, and then we will discuss just a few of these with the whole group. I will tell you when 2 minutes are up so that you can switch people.” Notice that in this example the instructions were simple and the time limit clear.
Techniques for connecting with your audience can be implemented without too much effort and they really pay off for you and your audience. Success in speaking is not only you feeling good when you step away from the podium, but also your audience walking away loving the experience.