THE most important part of a speech - building rapport - is also one of the most neglected parts.
You can improve your storytelling, establish interesting conflicts, make fascinating points, sell them with the push, pull, and passion approach, and use all of the nuts and bolts suggested in future newsletters, and yet you will fail to be effective if you do not connect with the audience.
When I give a 45-minute workshop on the art of public speaking, I usually open by thanking my introducer and making a comment such as, "That was a great introduction. It was fabulous. It was...just how I wrote it!" This gets a laugh.
Then I go into a self-deprecating humorous story about a terrible public speaking experience I had in which I failed miserably. Then I have the audience do a very quick 15-second activity while standing. Then they sit. After I have spoken for about four minutes, I ask the audience: "Have I made any points yet?"
They think about it for a second and answer: "No!" "Why not?" I ask. Someone will eventually say: "You were building rapport!"
I then explain that it is extremely difficult to give people advice without first knowing them. Therefore, it is critical to use what I call get-to-know-you time. This is the time you take at the very beginning of your speech to simply get to know the audience and let them get to know you.
I am sure that you would not go up to a stranger on the street tomorrow, stop him in his tracks and say: "You know...you should really start setting some goals in your life!" That person may think you are not quite sane.
Audiences are similar when you do not spend any get-to-know-you time with them. If you dive immediately into your points, your listeners will ask themselves: "Who does he think he is?" Or, "She does not even know me at all, so why is she bombarding me with suggestions?"
The way to avoid this is by developing some material for the get-to-know-you time and using it for approximately the first 5 to 10 per cent of your speech. In a 45-minute speech, I may use the first three to five minutes for the rapport building.
What should you do during this time? That is completely up to you, but the one thing you should not do is make any significant points. It is not the time for that yet. This time is simply used for one thing - to connect!
I call it the most important part of the speech because if you do not connect up front, your audience will not be around (mentally or sometimes physically) for the remainder of your speech, no matter how powerful it may be.
Here are some suggestions:
Thank the people who brought you in to speak and mention them by name;
Talk about something interesting that happened on the way to the engagement (perhaps while travelling);
Share something funny that one of the participants said to you and call them by name to make a greater connection;
Share a humorous (self-deprecating) story without attaching a point to it. This works great because your humility will attract the audience to you;
Speak about the city or even the specific location of the event;
Do a very quick activity (15 to 30 seconds) that involves them in some kind of physical movement such as crossing their arms and then re-crossing them with the opposite arm on top. These types of activities work because they make a kinesthetic connection with the audience;
If the group's energy is already sky-high, go ahead and do a call and response, or at least ask them how they are doing and possibly put your hand to your ear so that they will respond verbally;
Mention something positive about the speakers who spoke before you; or
Do whatever it takes to build a connection without making any points.
Why is this so important? Consider this quote by Greek philosopher Aristotle: "Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds.
The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself."
Aristotle wrote, way back around 350BC, about the importance of "putting the audience into a certain frame of mind". The get-to-know-you time empowers you to put the audience into a certain frame of mind while establishing a solid connection with them.