How to Connect with An Audience—It’s One of Your Most Important Leadership Skills

Guest post from Gary Genard:

Perhaps
the biggest public speaking mistake emerging leaders make is to focus on
delivering information. But a leader never gives a speech to convey content.
Instead, the aim should be to influence—and often activate—listeners.

Your
purpose, then, needs to inform all of your other choices when you speak.

In
fact, things should be much easier for you if you think like that.  The dry delivery of information is seldom
interesting. But the speaker who can put that information into context and
reveal why it matters vitally to the audience—well, that speaker will likely be
both more memorable and successful.

Connecting with Your
Audience is Critical to Effective Communication Skills

To
achieve such effective communication, you need to pay particular attention to the
planning stage of your speech. Don’t be like the leader who says, “I know this
stuff cold . . . I’ll just go out and talk about it.”

Your
speech or presentation must have shape—in fact, you need to recognize that
speaking is a strategic activity. Neglect to consider how your talk will be
perceived in the minds of your listeners, and you’re almost certain to ramble.
After all, to quote 19th-century novelist
Sarah Orne Jewett, your job as a speaker is to “be brisk, be
splendid, and be public.”

Let’s
look at three ways you can do so in your preparation to speak as a leader, and
one method of achieving that aim in performance.

How to Start a Speech
with a Strong Introduction

The
concept of primacy states that
audiences will retain best what they experience first. That means you must think
carefully about how to start your speech. How, in other words, will you get
your audience on board immediately, and keep them there?

The
way to do so is by using one of the rhetorical devices that presenters have
been employing for centuries to grab their listeners’ attention. You know what
many of these devices are, because you’ve heard them used often. They include a
story, quotation, statistic, personal anecdote, case study or client
testimonial, demonstration, visual, expert testimony, or even today’s headline
or a musical cue. Remember, your audience and the speaking situation are the
best guides to choosing an approach that will get you off to a strong start.

Ending with a
Clincher Will Help Seal the Deal

And
what about the other end of your speech? Actually, a similar communication
component is taking place here—the concept of recency—that says that audiences strongly retain what they
experience last.

In
other words, you want what you say to continue to resonate in your listeners’
minds. If your speech is persuasive, you may want audience members to take some
action. In either case, you need that effect to occur after you’ve finished speaking, sometimes long after. Will that
happen if you have a perfunctory closing, or simply recap your message? Not a
chance.

Here’s
the good news about this part of your presentation: you can choose from the
same rhetorical devices you consulted for your introduction. Not the same
device; just the same list. If you opened with a quotation, consider ending
with a story, etc. The idea is to conclude your remarks in a way that goes
beyond mere content, to be vivid and memorable.

Leadership Qualities
Must Include Rapport

Let’s
say you’ve thought strategically about your speech and have come up with an
effective grabber and a great clincher. You know that the actual body of your
speech—the part between that opener and closer—is solid content and will take
care of itself in keeping listeners interested.

Well,
no, it probably won’t. If you want to actually lead audiences, you need to
strongly establish rapport with them. That means keeping them interested
throughout your talk, not just in the high-visibility Introduction and
Conclusion.

To
do so, you need to think consciously about that audience’s engagement. How will you take the information you’re ready to
impart, and shape it in a way that will never let your listeners disengage? I
once had a client who asked me to help her with a full-day training she was
going to be conducting. It turns out she was planning to give three long PowerPoint presentations to
make up the day. You can believe we started seriously exploring how she would
build in engagement instead.

And Now for
Performance: How’s Your Body Language?

If
you proceed according to the above suggestions, you’ll be thinking in both
strategic and tactical terms, and the chances are good you’ll have planned
wonderfully. Once that’s done, you’re ready for the really fun part of your
talk or presentation: the performance.

Here
especially, the content will never be able to carry the full load of influence
you’re aiming for with your audience. You need to tap into that vast reservoir
of successful communication that depends upon nonverbal communication.

And
that, in turn, means effective body language. Forget what you’ve heard about
the “meaning” of specific gestures—for it’s the context of the body language an
audience sees that matters. Think in terms of physical expression, i.e., using gestures that amplify, support, or
strengthen what you’re saying. Consider your movement and position in your
performance space as well, whether it’s the front of a boardroom or a large
elevated stage, or something in between.

When
you move, you are more visually interesting, you show that you can command a
stage (as a leader must), and you actually improve your own thinking as you’re
speaking. It’s one more way to connect with your audience and demonstrate your
leadership skills.

 

About
the author:

Gary
Genard, PhD
,
is an actor, communications professor, and speech coach, as well as author
of FEARLESS SPEAKING:  Beat Your Anxiety • Build Your Confidence •
Change Your Life
.  Creator of The Genard Method of performance-based
public speaking training, he has spent the past fifteen years helping people
from all walks of life cope with speech anxiety and stage fright.  Genard
coaches executives and senior professionals in speaking for leadership, and has
worked with Citigroup, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, the U.S. State Department
and Congress, the United Nations, and many others. For more information
visit www.genardmethod.com.