Written by Jacqui Harper
How do you connect to an audience? I get asked this question often so this is my best advice.
Connecting to an audience is not an important aspect of a presentation – it is the most important aspect. Without strong connection there is no opportunity to gain trust, inform or influence and precious time is wasted.
Emotions will always be the place to start: the emotions of the speaker and the emotions of the audience. I encourage executives to be passionate speakers and care deeply about their message and audience. Experiencing a passionate speaker typically helps the audience to connect more quickly to the presenter.
For the record, I’m not talking about a highly impassioned speaking style as that can be problematic for a business audience.
Always be aware of where you are leading an audience emotionally. When I hear executives say ‘I know this presentation is boring’ I warn them that if they feel their content is boring so will the audience.
I have noticed that speakers who come across as emotionally ‘open’ often have a deeper connection to their audience. These speakers have a bit of vulnerability about them. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with this and I am not talking about exhibiting high levels of vulnerability. But allowing some vulnerability can help with coming across as natural or authentic.
Research professor Brené Brown does a great job of explaining how vulnerability can be empowering for speakers. Have a look at her TED Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’.
For some, a conference presentation is the last place they want to be vulnerable – even a tiny bit. Bear in mind that a lack of vulnerability can often feel like there is emotional armour plating around a speaker: no emotions are allowed out and audiences generally struggle to connect to these speakers.
Another way to connect to an audience is in the preparation stage. Think about the emotional objective. Be clear about how you want the audience to feel when you have finished speaking. Do you want them to feel reassured? Excited? Concerned? Inspired? Involved? Make sure you deliver the emotional objective in how you interact with the audience; how you organise your ideas; the language you use; how you support ideas. All of these things will help increase audience connection.
A final thought on the power of emotion: logic convinces but emotion commits.
Executive Presentations is published by Practical Inspiration Publishing
Jacqui is called the ‘presentation doctor’ at INSEAD Business School, Paris, where she is a visiting professor teaching Executive Presence. Previously a TV news anchor for the BBC, she has also presented news programmes for Sky News and ITV. As a communication coach at Crystal Business Coaching, Jacqui has transformed Executive Presentations for over 15 years. Her clients include CEOs of global corporations and staff at The Foreign Office.