The Speaker Relationship Cultivation Triad
“Be genuinely interested in everyone you meet and everyone you meet will be genuinely interested in you”― Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach, speaker, author
I recently attended a memorial service for a dear friend who had battled cancer for many years and passed.
During the service, the minister said my friend was an expert at cultivating relationships. She was, and so is her husband. I have been dear friends with them for forty-three years and counting.
Stephen Covey said, “Humans have four basic needs: to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy.
One of the many legacies of my friend left for all of us is to live life to the fullest by cultivating relationships.
I thought, isn’t that what you and I do in our public speaking – cultivating relationships with our audiences?
Below are three ways you can cultivate relationships with your audiences:
Understand Your Audience
Before stepping onto the stage, take the time to research and understand your audience. Know their demographics, interests, and concerns. This knowledge will allow you to tailor your message to be more relevant and relatable.
Even after you have researched your audience, there is no more authentic information on your audience than speaking to them. I arrive at my speaking venues at least an hour before my presentation. After I checked out the audio-visual equipment, acoustics, and computer equipment, I position myself by the entry door to greet attendees. Why do I do this? Read on.
I ask attendees three questions that provide me great insight into the overall audience I could ever attain through just research. My questions for attendees are:
What brought you here today (or tonight)?
What questions do you want my presentation to answer?
What must happen during my presentation to make it a success for you?
The answers to these questions provide the last ones I need to understand my audience and deliver the most relevant presentation.
During your presentation, consider conducting real-time polls or asking your audience questions to learn more about how they feel and think about your subject.
So, the first part of the speaker cultivation triad is understanding your audience, which is vital to cultivating a relationship with them.
The second part of the speaker cultivation triad is to establish an authentic connection.
Establish Authentic Connection
Connect with your audience on a personal level by being genuine and authentic.
You have heard it before. Inject stories into your main points in your presentations. Share personal stories or experiences that resonate with your message.
Chances are there will be commonalities between your stories and the lives of audience members. People like people in which they have commonalities. People who like people listen to them, which is precisely what you want your audience to do during your presentation.
A crucial part of establishing an authentic connection is trust. Authenticity builds trust and helps the audience feel a connection with you. When people have a connection to you, they pay attention to you.
One of my mentors, Earl Nightingale, said to speak ideas, not words, when delivering a presentation. Avoid appearing too scripted or rehearsed; instead, speak from the heart.
If you try to memorize words, you will forget some of them, stumble over others, and, in the process, increase your fear. Maybe, most importantly, you will distance yourself from your audience, which is what you do not want to do.
Bring your personality out in your presentations. Be careful not to reference too many other people in your presentations. Your audience comes to see you, hear you, and gain from your expertise on your subject. Don’t disappoint them.
Make eye contact, use relatable language, and demonstrate empathy to create a shared understanding.
Remember the last time someone talked to you and did not look you in the eye? What feeling did you have about this person? Perhaps you felt the person was not being honest with you, not confident in themselves, and possibly passing on information that was not true. The benefits of good eye contact are many.
Establishing an authentic connection with your audience also requires you to use the language of your audience in your presentation. You don’t want to distract your audience by using jargon or other words for which your audience is not familiar.
Demonstrating empathy with your audience is also vital to establishing an authentic connection with them. Always be willing to change your narrative to include answers to the audience’s questions about your subject.
So, understanding your audience and establishing an authentic connection are keys to cultivating a relationship with them.
The third and final part of the speaker relationship cultivation triad is encouraging interaction and feedback.
Encourage Interaction and Feedback
It is essential to foster a two-way communication channel by encouraging audience interaction. This can be achieved through Q&A sessions, polls, or interactive activities.
Some speakers dread questions from their audience. They feel it distracts them from what they want to say. A cure for this attitude is to realize it is not about you. It is about them. Every word, phrase, and slide of your presentation has to be focused on your audience.
Answering questions from your audience is like mining in a vein of pure gold. Audience questions are a sign for you to keep doing what you are doing, adjust slightly to be more relevant, or completely discard your narrative and slides to be the most relevant to your audience.
Polls are another great way in a short time to determine what is most important to your audience. Virtual platforms like Zoom now have poll capability. You select the question and the possible answers and then let your audience choose one of the answers. The poll is then displayed to show the audience how the majority answered your questions. Usually, no more than two questions are sufficient to read the “pulse” of your audience.
There is perhaps no more effective way to encourage audience feedback and interaction than to give them an activity in which they can participate. This could be nothing more than dividing your audience into breakout groups, having them discuss their answers to your question in the small group, and then briefing the larger audience on what they discussed.
Actively listen to audience questions and comments, and respond thoughtfully. Creating opportunities for audience feedback could also involve social media or post-event discussions. Demonstrating that you value their input and perspectives helps build a sense of community and engagement.
Encouraging audience feedback and interaction is your friend as a speaker because it will always make you more knowledgeable about your audience, which is always good.
Cultivating relationships with your audience is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and adaptability.
By implementing the speaker cultivation triad (understanding your audience, being authentic, and promoting audience feedback and interaction), you create a positive and lasting connection with your audience that extends beyond the duration of your speech.
Call to Action
Perform research and talk to your audience before your presentation to increase your understanding of them.
Ensure your complete personality comes out in your presentation; you can do little more to endear yourself to your audience than to be authentically yourself.
Encourage audience feedback and interaction at every opportunity in your presentation. Ken Blanchard, leadership and management expert, said feedback is the breakfast of champions.
“Whether they stem from business or personal situations, our relationships are what support us, connect us, and allow us to progress in all aspects of our lives.”― Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of 11 Laws of Likability
Frank DiBartolomeo is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and award-winning speaker, presentation and interview skills coach, and Professional Member of the National Speakers Association. He was awarded Toastmasters International’s highest individual award, Distinguished Toastmaster because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.
Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.speakleadandsucceed.com) in 2007. The mission of DCI is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence their colleagues and other technical professionals by improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Reach Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org and (703) 509-4424.
Don’t miss Frank DiBartolomeo’s latest book!
“Speak Well and Prosper: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Better Presentations”