When you stand up to speak in front of a group, yes, you want to appear confident. However, it is equally important to have the ability to build trust and rapport with your audience. Your audience will not believe you unless they first trust you. In this session, we are going to give you a few, simple communication skills that will help you build solid trust with your audience. Incidentally, these same skills will help you build trust and rapport within any relationship.
This is part three of our series on Improving Communication Skills. In part one, we talked about how a great communication coach can help you improve your communication skills more quickly. Last week, we showed you a few simple things that you can do to shut down a heckler or someone who is peppering you with negative questions. Next week, we will cover a few ideas that will help you avoid disagreement and resolve conflicts. In the final sessions, we will show you how to use your words to gain enthusiastic cooperation from your audience.
Part 3: Improve Your Communication Skills and Gain Trust and Rapport.
Avoid Being Critical If at All Possible.
No one likes to be criticized. And certainly, no one likes to be criticized in public. One of the best books ever written about dealing with people is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (If you have never read the book, click the link and get a copy ASAP. It is the best $12 you will ever spend.) In the first chapter of the book, Carnegie talks about a gangster in New York who is pinned down by the NYPD in his apartment. He had just committed murder. But, while he sat there waiting for the police to break through the door, he wrote down a memoir telling the reader about how right he had been all along. Even at the end, he didn’t see where he had committed any wrong. Guess what? We all feel that way. Even when we are so wrong that everyone else around us sees it, we don’t see it in ourselves. All it takes is for someone to criticize us for our mistakes, and we will likely justify our actions in some way.
The people in your audience are the same way. The more critical we appear when we communicate with others, the more likely we are to turn off our audience. The analogy that I like to use is that every single person that you meet has a “relationship bank account” with you. We can either make deposits into that account or we can make withdrawals. The more positive the account, the more that the person will like you. So, instead of being overly critical, be positive. Your audience will appreciate it.
Does that mean that you can never criticize when you present? Heaven’s no. Just remember that in the bank account, it takes multiple deposits to make up for a single withdrawal. So, use your criticism sparingly.
Look at Things from the Audience’s Perspective.
This is one of the things that we spend a tremendous amount of time teaching in our presentation skills seminars. We do this because it is so critical to public speaking success. When most people start to design a presentation, they think, “What exactly do I want to tell the audience about this?” Instead, what we really should be thinking is, “What exactly does my audience really want to know about this?” The latter will make your audience trust you much more. I always encourage my students to come into their presentations assuming the the audience doesn’t give a wit about you are what you have to say. They have their own problems. They would much rather be anywhere other than listening to you speak. By the way, most audiences are much kinder than this, but if you make that assumption, you will tend to design your speeches a little differently. We start think like our audiences. If the audience members have their own problems they want to solve, if I can identify those problems and help them solve them, I’m now the hero.
Put yourself in the shoes of the audience member. Identify the problems that they have and that you can help them solve. Then design your presentations around those solutions.
When we are nervous, we don’t smile as much. When we don’t smile, people don’t like us as much. One of the best tips that I can give to a nervous speaker is to look for a friendly face or two in the audience and smile just before you start your presentation. Most often, the person will smile back. A positive expression on your face can go a long way to help you build trust and rapport with your audience.
By the way, this isn’t easy for some of us. For about half the population of the world, (me included) our neutral expression can be perceived by others as being negative. When people see me hard at work, they often describe me as wearing a frown (even when I’m happy). So, if I want to make a positive first impression, I have to purposefully set out to smile. If you find this to be the case for you, do it. It pays off with big rewards. Smiles are contagious.
Name Drop Audience Members to Get Them Involved in the Presentation.
People love to hear their own name. I often use this technique when I am only speaking for a short time, and I need to build that trust and rapport quickly. I will insert the name of an audience member into the presentation. For instance, before I go on stage, I will network with the group a little to find out exactly what they they want and expect from the presentation. I remember the responses that the group gives me. Then, during the presentation, I can strategically insert a comment like, “Earlier this morning, Joe mentioned to me that…” These types of “name drops” will do two things for you. One, they show the audience that you are tailoring the content to this particular audience (not just giving a canned speech). Secondly, the technique will build more trust with the person that you referenced.
I will often do this with the natural leaders in the room. They are easy to spot. They are the people that everyone crowds around at the beginning of the meeting.
Listen to Your Audience and Make Adjustments as Needed.
Early in my speaking career, I think this particular tip was the thing that made me such an effective speaker. Because of the way that I designed my presentations, it was really easy to customize the content on the fly based on interaction from the audience. (By the way, this is the technique that we teach our class members as well.)
A few years ago I was co-teaching with one of my senior instructors, Ellen, who is based in Detroit. She was the lead instructor, so I was just there to help. She arrived at the location hours before setup was to begin and she sought out the most senior executive that was going to be attending her class. The she asked him question after question. Each time, she was increasing her understanding of exactly what the executive was expecting from her. I was amazed. A few hours later, she wove each and every item that the executive brought up into her delivery. At the conclusion, the executive sought her out and thanked her over and over for providing the perfect program for his group.
As we were leaving, I told Ellen how impressed I was with what she had done in such a short period of time. I told her that I can’t remember anyone ever being so effective at customizing the content of the presentation so quickly. She stopped abruptly with a shocked look on her face, and said, “What do you mean?” I reiterated that I was really impressed with her skill, and that I wished that I could do that. Again, she looked at me in a very strange way and said, “You taught me to do that.”
The funny thing was that, once she said it, it all came flooding back to me. I used to do that with every single presentation. Over the years, though, I had gotten into a bad habit. I guess that I had begun to believe that I had all of the answers. That day, though, I got back to my roots. I started focusing way more on my audience. When I did, my company almost doubled within a single year.
Focus on your audience. Make adjustments t help them get what they want. They will love you.