Whether you’re accepting an award, making a sales presentation or speaking at your professional association, creating a genuine connection with the people in the room goes a long way toward assuring success.
And a lot of speakers find that challenging.
Here are some pointers from my 39 Keys to Command the Room, Connect with Your Audience and Cash in with Your Content.
Make full-frontal eye contact with the individuals in the room. That means turning your whole face, and in fact your whole body to face each person. Looking at someone sideways doesn’t make you seem as open or trustworthy.
Most speakers scan a room constantly or look toward the back of the room over the tops of people’s heads. Instead, make sure you connect with each individual, eyes-to-eyes and heart-to-heart.
Talk to the people, not to your slides. How often have you sat in a room watching the back of a speaker’s head as he read bullet points off the screen? Boring, right? The guy might as well have emailed the PowerPoint and saved you the time and effort it took to be there.
You’re better off with images on your slides instead of bullet points. When you need to show words, make them few. And large.
And if you need to glance at the screen to make sure you’re on track with the slides, pause. Turn your head to look at the slide. Then turn back to your audience and start talking. Rule of thumb: your lips should not be moving unless your eyes are on the individuals sitting in front of you.
Remember to smile once in a while. Even if you’re speaking about something quite serious, you’ll want to smile at the people listening to you. Because it makes them want to keep listening!
Maybe you’ve seen a speaker who’s so wrapped up in her material that she sounds fierce or even angry about it? It can make an audience uncomfortable. And it certainly doesn’t draw them to you; in fact it has the opposite effect.
Your presence at the front of the room will be much warmer if you lighten it up and smile.
Oh and a bonus tip for baby boomers: Smile even more! When I see myself on video I become uncomfortably aware that as I get older I can look crabby or mean even when I’m not. (Something about those vertical lines beside my mouth!) You might notice the same thing. The antidote seems to be intentionally turning the corners of my mouth up. A lot.
I spoke at a convention this summer where the room had a stage set up with a lectern and a long table for panel presentations. The woman who spoke before me stood behind the lectern and pushed the buttons for her bullet-point-laden slides.
When it was my turn, I ditched the stage altogether. Planted myself in the space at the front of the room and moved around among the people seated at round tables.
It changed the energy in the room so much that people actually commented about it. The room – and the people in it – shifted from feeling lifeless to much more vibrant.
The lesson for you: no lectern, no table—no barrier between you and the audience.
Putting a physical block between you and them makes it even harder to connect with people.
You’re already competing with their smartphone, their thoughts about what happened earlier, their concerns about what’s coming up and maybe their need for a cup of coffee, or lunch or the nearest restroom. You get the picture. Don’t make it harder for yourself by hiding out.
There’s more to it; we’ll revisit this question of how to connect with your audience. In the meantime, if you’ve discovered a secret of your own—or if you’ve learned the consequences of not connecting—share your experience in the comments.