Polishing Performance Ep07: Audience Connections

You want to create an experience for the audience. Think of your talk as an experience instead of just a one-way transmission of information. You'll want to engage and receive feedback.


  • Start with one person

    Find someone in the audience who is attentive and "feeling it." Connect with them and then move on to someone else.

  • Lead for feedback

    Use rhetorical questions as the "lead". This will give you an indication of how engaged your audience is.

  • Connect beforehand

    Consider interacting with your audience before your talk. Connect and converse instead of hanging out (or hiding out) backstage.

When you're starting off your talk, pick someone {in the audience} who's smiling and who is welcoming that you would love to make a connection with. Kymberlee

Kymberlee: What is the most effective way to connect with an audience? A lot of people ask this, and a lot of people also have misconceptions of what a great way to approach this is. I want to talk about that this week.

First off, one of the things for me is that a lot of speakers will scan. They're generally try to get everybody in a giant theater, but actually they're connecting to no one. What you want to do instead is pick out a person and deliver a couple of lines to that person. Then move on and pick another person and deliver a couple of lines. When you connect with one person, everyone else in the audience will feel that connection.

Alan Irwin: You are picking that one person to represent the rest of the audience. When we talk about connections, it's not about you putting out information, it's about understanding where they are in terms of their perspective on what you're saying. You are looking for those clues from that person. The reason you're focusing on them is to have them nod, to be clear that they're reacting to you. In fact, if I happen to mistakenly pick somebody who gives me no reaction at all, I'll switch to somebody else who is at least nodding or giving me some indication of where he or she is at in the course of my talk.

Kymberlee: When you're starting off your talk, a lot of times it's great to pick someone out in the audience kind of near the front that you can just make that great connection to right off the bat. Don't look for the person who's like this {arms crossed}. Hopefully there's no one like that in your talk, but hey those people are out there. So pick someone who's smiling and who is welcoming and who is sitting up and forward perhaps in their chair that you would love to make a connection with. Because what you say matters, so you want to be able to have that connection with a human, one person at a time.

Alan Irwin: Those are your indications as to whether or not the audience can really understand what you're saying or whether you've gone off on a topic or misstated something or maybe explained something in a confusing way. Now in a formal presentation you may be somewhat restricted on where you can go, but I teach a lot, and I'm very dependent on making sure the people are giving me feedback that they understand where we are at. If I don't get that feedback, I may go back and restate something until I get that good feedback.

Kymberlee: Also, another technique, Alan, you were talking earlier about is nodding. You get people to actually engage with you. Can you talk a little more about that?

Alan Irwin: Yeah. The rhetorical question or the lead. What I'm looking for, at times I will ask the audience, "Right?" Or I use something that would allow them to indicate with a nod that they are consistent with what I'm saying, they are following what I'm saying. Those sorts of leads or my own nod to get them to nod back, is an indication of whether or not I'm connecting. If they're asleep or if they've gotten bored or not connected at all, if I nod they're not going to react and I know that.

Kymberlee: Right, so that's great feedback for you as a speaker that you really want to engage. I have found that when you do have that really personal connection with one person, the rest of the audience can feel that, and then you can build on that. When you smile, they'll smile. When you are telling them something that gives them chills, they'll feel that too. You want to create an experience for the audience. Think of your talk as an experience instead of just a one way transmission of information.

Alan Irwin: Laughter, concern, sympathy, sorrow, interest, all those things will be reflected in the audience that you pick out to observe. That's what's so important to not scan, but to pick out somebody. Switch after a while to somebody else, but that can give you that feedback. You want to make that connection.

Kymberlee: Also, consider interacting with your audience before your talk. Now here's what I mean by that. A lot of people will be backstage and they will not interact with their audience at all until after their talk, but what I found, and we do this in Improv, is I'll go out in the audience before I'm ready to go on, and you can build those connections one at a time with people that are going to watch your talk later. For me, it also just helps me relax because I feel like okay, I know these people and they really want to hear what I have to say.

Alan Irwin: Exactly. It has reduced everybody's tension.

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