Ten ways to build rapport and engage your audience

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Written by Dorothea Stuart on 22 August 2014 in Features

Dorothea Stuart presents 10 tips to help you gain rapport and engage your audience during your speech or presentation and beyond

Reading time: 3m 30s.

We’ve all experienced the difference between a speaker who makes us drift off and a speaker who has the ability to grab and hold our attention.  The difference is simply rapport and engagement. Some speakers have it – others miss it completely.

Here are 10 tips to help you gain rapport and engage your audience during your speech or presentation and beyond.

  1. Put your audience first

The key to rapport is getting to know as much as possible about your audience before you start preparing your speech or presentation. With limited time for your talk there are always choices to be made so the more you know the better you can tailor your technical content and examples etc.to meet your audience’s needs and expectations.

  1. Find opportunities for humour

Knowledge of your audience gives you the chance to find opportunities for humour, one of the oldest rapport building techniques. We warm to people who make us laugh. It is also a way of showing that you are ‘one of them’. 

  1. Allow for flexibility in your content

Write a speech that will take approximately 80 per cent of the time you’ve been allocated. Then arrive early and talk to as many people as possible. That way you may pick up stories, examples that you can refer to in your presentation.  You may also discover an important concern that you can emphasise.  The ability to flex your speech in this way shows a genuine responsiveness to your audience which will be appreciated.

  1. First impressions count

As a speaker you are on show from the moment you start meeting your audience: walking into the conference hotel, the board room at work, stepping onto the podium. Dressing appropriately is a given.  Most important is being in the mental and physical state which communicates a positive attitude and energy to your audience.  If you look as if you are interested and eager to speak to them you are well on your way to establishing rapport.

  1. Have a strong opening

If you are at a formal event write the introduction you want the MC to give. You want people to hear information that builds your credibility/authority with this particular audience. This is an essential part of rapport. If audience members feel they are in good hands they will relax and give their attention.  Next, find an opening that will grab the attention and engage your audience as quickly as possible. 

  1. Manage the middle

If you are giving a long talk you need to maintain and peak the audience’s interest at key points in your speech.  A humorous twist can do this.  You can also build up your key arguments to shocking, or unexpectedly positive conclusions.

  1. Use stories for emotional connection

Rapport depends on emotional connection and stories are a highly effective way to achieve this. “Make a point. Tell a story. Tell a story. Make a point.” is the public speaking mantra. Evidence shows that even if we grasp the facts, we’re more likely to remember the story that illustrates it when we go back to our desks. 

  1. Use your voice with variety

Varying the pace and volume at which you speak can add to the impact of you presentation. If you are telling a story about a fast-paced environment - pick up your pace. If you’re giving a piece of complex information - slow down and let people absorb it. If your voice matches your content it will be more engaging.

  1. Give the audience time

If you say something funny let everyone laugh and enjoy the moment. If you’ve said something with strong emotion give time for it to be absorbed.  If you rush on to make your next point you signal that your needs are most important.  By pausing you show you are there for them.

  1. Have strong ending

Craft a clear, concise summary of your key message to end on.  You may have a call to action which should be specific so that people leave knowing exactly what they need to do. That way your ideas will stay with them.

By following these ten tips you’ll build rapport with your audience and you’ll engage them – and they will remember you, and your business, for all the right reasons.

Dorothea Stuart - Toastmasters International


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