The objective of any presentation is to connect with the audience and convey your message. You won’t be effective at conveying your message if you don’t connect. How can we connect with our audience? Most of us don’t spend time thinking about or practicing this important aspect of the presentation. Instead, we often focus on, review, revise, and obsess about the CONTENT of our message. Naturally, the content matters. However, nothing will sink in if we don’t learn to connect.
Contrary to popular belief, connecting to the audience is not a given, and there are many things that get in the way of connection, and most of them are based on FEAR. We fear that we will look like a fool (because we don’t have the right information, or we can’t answer a question, or the PowerPoint doesn’t work, or many other things that could go wrong during a presentation). This fear is primal. Millions of years ago, when we ran in packs, we needed to be accepted by our group, our clan, in order to get FOOD. If we were not accepted as part of the group, if we were in any way an OUTSIDER, we went hungry and died. That’s why most people fear public speaking: if we look the fool, we will not be accepted by our clan.
Because this fear is part of our human nature, it is best to accept the fear and move on, and if we can USE the fear we can become even more effective. That’s a topic for another day. Today, let’s examine how fear can prevent us from connecting with our audience. To connect, we must be able to show the audience:
- That we care (our intentions)
- That we want to help (our end goal)
- That we are trustworthy (our authenticity and integrity)
Most audience members will give us the benefit of the doubt, but human nature is at work behind the scenes. If we allow our fear to block our intentions, we may send mixed signals. This shows up in non-verbal communication (such as avoiding eye contact, mumbling, and poor posture, for example). It also shows up in self-sabotage, such as making disparaging remarks or engaging in distractions. These behaviors can cause the audience not to trust us and that prevents the necessary connection we need to convey our message.
Improv techniques can help identify our individual fears and blocking habits, however they show up for you. Through practice, we can improve our ability to connect with the audience using non-verbal communication and verbal strategies to show our intentions, our goal to help, and our trustworthiness as a speaker.
Toni Halleen is President and Founder of Fun with Law. She has been teaching and training professionals since 1989, during which time she has also been an improvisation performer. She has combined her talents into a new approach to professional development. Toni’s “Think on The Spot”™ seminars are presented across the country, and are designed to build listening, thinking, communication, team-building, and presentation skills for professionals. Working with organizations, Toni makes training more fun and engaging, and also works as a communications coach to help individuals and teams to be more effective under pressure.