Connecting With Your Audience
Let me tell you a story,
My degree is in plant genetics from the University of Tennessee. When you major in plant genetics, everyone wants to know the name of every plant in the world. But you know what, that’s botany, not genetics. I can tell you all about a plant’s flowering and reproductive strategy, but I rarely know the name of any plant. Except for a few token ones like snapdragons, echinacea, and iris. Boom.
When you have a storytelling company, everyone wants a story. Luckily I am good at stories. I love stories of all kinds, but my kids don’t care about stories that involve corporate leadership. You probably don’t care about the story of which shoes I like to buy. Your in-laws don’t care about your family’s Easter brunch traditions. It’s a harsh reality, but no matter how good your story is, if you don’t have a connection with your audience you might as well just keep laughing at everyone else’s story.
If you don’t take the time to establish a connection with your audience, your presentation, interview, dinner date or whatever it is; your ability to influence will suffer. The good news is that most of us share a connection to something. None of us would like to sink in a boat in the arctic ocean. All of us want to be good enough to dance on stage with Beyonce. None of us like commercials. All of us like going to the movies.
Those connections are good enough for your dinner date, but they are not good enough to convince your boss you deserve a promotion or to persuade the board to fund your failing project. For those presentations, you need a stronger connection. You need to establish a connection between their vision and your vision. Think of that connection as a mutual interest. If you want a promotion, you need to establish the connection around how much more comfortable your boss’ life will be with you in the new position. If you need funding, you need to build a connection between your project and the Board’s vision for the company.
Your presentation's success is measured by how you made your audience feel and what you got them to say when your presentation is over. Neither is possible without building a connection first. You have to make a connection with your audience before they will let you take them on an emotional journey. If they are not feeling the same way you do, when you laugh, they stare. When you cry, they cringe. You have to establish that connection to get them to follow you on your emotional journey. Further, think about how hard it is to get someone to give you a piece of their busy brains and remember your message. I had to write down my wife’s phone number the first time I met her. The mother of my children and the love of my life and I could not remember seven digits. Getting someone to commit something to memory is no small task. You have to make that connection for them to remember the story you want them to remember. If you do this right, your audience will pick up where you left off and carry your message beyond that room.
How do you make that connection? We have three tips for you:
Your audience needs to connect with you before they are willing to connect with your story. Make sure they know who you are and why you are there. Your story needs to be one they can identify with so they trust what you are going to tell them.
Make your stories relevant to your audience. If I am pitching investors about funding my company, my personal story should focus on my conviction to my company’s vision, not about my summer vacation.
Let the audience come to the conclusion on their own. They trust their own conclusion way more than yours. The components of your story should be arranged such that their conclusion and your conclusion are the same.
How do you know if you do (or do not) have a connection:
Knowing if you have made the connection is easier than you think. Read the body language of your audience. If you see phones coming out of pockets, you are losing them. If more and more people are getting up to go to the bathroom, they are escaping your boredom. Are they leaning in and actively listening, you are on the right track. Did they laugh at your joke? If yes, good job. If no, you have work to do.
One more thing:
Sometimes there are things outside of your control that will impede your ability to connect with your audience. A few examples are fatigue, hunger, temperature, boredom, anticipation for catching a flight. You have to plan for these things. The good news, if you acknowledge whatever it is and fix it for them, you will have an immediate connection. Make the room warmer or provide an impromptu coffee break and you can be a hero for life.
Want more information on how to connect with your audience?
1. Click here to watch our Presentation Stories episode
2. Click here to watch our Leadership Object Lesson episode
3. Click here to see our cheat sheet
Here is to great stories,