Public speaking isn’t all about talking in front of an audience in a "monologue-style" speech. Remember, more than anything else, public speaking is about getting your message across effectively.
That’s why connecting with the audience is important.
When you connect with your audience, you can get their attention and sustain their attention for the duration of your speech. The end result is that they understand your message. You convey your message effectively.
So, the question is this then: How can you connect better with your audience in the first place? Answer? You need to know your audience.
Why Is It Important To Know Your Audience In Public Speaking?
It’s important to know your audience in public speaking because that will enable you to craft a speech they’ll listen to in the first place. Knowing your audience can help you determine the following elements in your speech:
- Subjects to cover
If you know the subjects your audience members are interested in, the language they relate to, and the tone of voice they respond to, whether casual or formal, you won’t have to force them to pay attention to you. They’ll pay attention on their own due to the connection you have established with them.
Knowing Your Audience
Once you get your invitation to speak, the first thing you need to ask (either yourself or even better the organizers) is who your audience is. Don’t be content with just knowing what you’re supposed to talk about.
If they ask you to talk about marketing, you can’t just assume your audience are would-be marketers. They can be marketing graduates, marketing professionals, and marketing executives. And each group would entail a different approach if you want your speaking engagement to be a success.
Let’s assume the organizers tell you your audience is composed of marketing professionals. Don’t think that’s the end of the research phase for you. You still need to find out what exactly they’d like to know about marketing. You wouldn’t want to be discussing concepts they actually already know. That would just be a waste of your time and theirs.
You could ask the organizers again for that sort of information, but they typically wouldn’t have the answer for you. That’s why the best thing to do at this stage is to go straight to your audience. If the organizers have a list of their emails, you could ask the organizers to send them a short survey on what they’d like to know from your lecture.
The point is, the more information you have about your audience, the better. After all, the more you know about your audience, the better you can cater your speech to them.
How Can I Connect Better With My Audience?
At this stage, you should already have a speech that caters to your audience. Your job as the speaker, however, doesn’t end there. On the day of your speech, you still need to find ways to connect better with your audience. There are many ways you can do this.
You can connect better with your audience if you use a personal approach, are sensitive to your surroundings, and use eye contact. Facial expressions can help you here, too.
Let’s look at these one by one.
1. Share personal anecdotes
You have to bear in mind that the people watching you are people. That means that, in general, they respond well (in this case, listen to) to people they can relate to. In other words, if you want your audience to connect with you, you need them to perceive you as someone relatable.
So, how do you do that? It’s really not that hard. You just need to show your audience that you’re like them. You wake up, get the kids to school, go to work and then go back home to rest. You like vacations and you have a pet dog, too.
Does that mean you need to tell them your entire life story? Not really. Just insert bits and pieces of who you are wherever applicable throughout your speech.
For example, if you’re talking about how important it is to meet deadlines when creating copy for marketing campaigns, you can tell them that one time you missed a deadline and upset your boss to the point of almost losing your job, and how that was a valuable lesson learned that lead to personal development. Something to that effect would be appropriate.
Rob Biesenbach, a certified virtual presenter, has a nice video explaining the importance of these kinds of personal stories in speeches:
In essence, these stories that show who you are outside of your persona as the speaker, humanize you and make your audience understand that, hey, you’re not so different from them after all.
2. Respond to what you see
Don’t be self-engrossed when you’re speaking in front of your audience. Remember that the critical elements to public speaking are many. You have the speaker, the message, and the audience. That means that for your speaking engagement to be successful, you should pay attention to, not just yourself, but also to the message you’re delivering and the audience.
That just means you need to be sensitive to your surroundings and respond accordingly.
For instance, if you see that many members of your audience are whipping out their cell phones instead of listening to you, then you should make adjustments to your speech then and there. You can maybe ask them a question to stimulate audience engagement. Or if you see that some people are disagreeing with what you’re saying, you can recognize that in your speech with this simple statement: “I see some people here are disagreeing with me. I’d like to get your opinions…”
The point is, you need to bear in mind when you’re speaking that you’re not speaking to and for yourself. You’re speaking to and for your audience. Make them a part of your world. Don’t isolate yourself by just reading those Powerpoint slides without even checking if someone is listening to you.
3. Use eye contact
Instead of feasting your eyes for too long on those Powerpoint slides, use them to speak to your audience as well. Eye contact is critical to connecting with your audience.
According to Sims Wyeth, a speech, author, and presentation coach, when you look at your audience when speaking, you transform them into active participants in your speech. Instead of giving a monologue, you’re now actually having a dialogue with them. You end up forming a bond with them.
Aside from the fact that it helps you connect better with your audience, here are other reasons eye contact is important in public speaking, according to Wyeth:
- When you look at your audience in the eye, you communicate confidence. And when people perceive you as a confident speaker, they feel that need to listen to you.
- When you look your audience in the eye, your audience feels compelled to reciprocate and look at you as well. That can extend to them listening to you as well.
- When you look your audience in the eye, you gain confidence. That enhanced confidence helps you deliver your speech in a more powerful way.
Ultimately, when you establish eye contact with your audience, you make them feel like they’re welcome in your world. Your invitation gives them the incentive to listen to what you have to say from start to finish.
Remember when I said you need to be personable for people to relate to you? Well, this is one of those other ways you can do that. When you smile, you remove that barrier your audience typically perceives exists between them and you as the speaker. You make your audience understand that you being the authority in that specific subject doesn’t mean you’re out of reach. That smile tells your audience you’re welcoming and inviting and are just like them.
Besides, when you smile at a stranger, in general, according to a study by Eric Wesselmann, a social psychologist at Purdue University, you help her or him better connect with other people. And that’s pretty cool, right?
Connecting With The Audience In Public Speaking: Final Thoughts
If you want your speaking engagement to be a success, you need to connect with your audience. When your audience perceives you as someone they can relate to, you won’t have a hard time getting them to listen to what you have to say. That means you can get your message across better.
But to connect with your audience, you need to know them first. That’s why audience research is so important. You need to know who your audience is so you can determine the important elements of your speech: the topic coverage, your language, and your tone.
Once you have your tailored speech, you still need to find a way to connect with your audience when on stage. You learned four ways you can do that from this article. Share personal anecdotes, respond to what you see, smile, and use eye contact. Follow these tips and you can give your audience the incentive to listen to you for the duration of your presentation.
And the result? Well, your presentation becomes a success.
For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement, please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.