Connect to your audience – the first moves

 

Telephone Switchboard

Source: Telefonzentralen Fotoarchiv A1 Telekom Austria

The recommendation to “connect to your audience” evokes the image of the telephone operator of old plugging a jack into a panel to connect a caller, or the image of a presenter plugging himself into the audience energy source.  “To connect” implies that the default status at the start of a presentation if that of disconnection with the audience. So how easy is it to “connect”?

That depends on the audience, doesn’t it? Sometimes the audience waiting for the stage appearance of their favorite star is so “pumped up” with expectations that the artist gets an energizing  jolt when he or she connects with the audience – a jolt that would fry most of our brain circuits for us normal human beings unused to the stage. Sometimes the audience is arctic – they haven’t asked to come, or they don’t know you, or they don’t like you – and your stage appearance has the same effect as a cold draft. To connect with that audience, you need a thawing device. But the device is not universal, it has to be adapted to the root cause of the prevalent audience attitude towards you.

For an oral presentation at a scientific conference, the audience is usually idling in neutral. They came because the topic was mildly relevant, but their expectations of you are not great based on the scarcity of interesting presenters among scientists. The first slides usually confirms these expectations: text heaviness has the same freezing  effect as  liquid nitrogen and the 7 bullets filling each clip of your compact PowerPoint gun pointing at the audience freezes it just as effectively.

Your job is to CONNECT in order to draw energy from the audience, but no or little energy comes from their interest in you (your atrociously difficult to pronounce last name does not help) and their interest in your topic (its atrociously complicated syntax is an immediate killjoy). Great! What is the next move? Actually, by that time, the next move comes too late, so let’s talk about  first moves instead.

MOVE # 1.   Start with the title of your talk. When you craft the title of your talk, make sure 1) it is reader-friendly (avoid cascading modifiers); 2) it somehow conveys the significance of your work; and/or 3) it makes people salivate or raises intense curiosity.

MOVE # 2.  Start connecting with the audience prior to your talk. Greet them at the door if at all possible. Have a friendly chat with a few people in the audience prior to your talk (in the foyer, or inside the room). You will no longer be anonymous. A few members of the audience will now know you.

MOVE # 3.   Use your microwaving smile and your high energy laser eye contact to unfreeze the audience even before you say a single word. And I do not mean the 1 second thawing cycle, spend 4 seconds or more. Hurriedness does not convey confidence.

MOVE # 4.  Thank the chair personally, not facing the audience while the chair is retreating to a dark corner. Possibly thank your mother to bring a smile on a few faces, and a tear on your mother’s face. Then leverage off your small initial success to pump yourself up with an extra dose of confidence (CAUTION: Don’t try that if you are not humorous by nature).

MOVE # 5.  Be professional in your first moves: a) while smiling, put on the microphone after you have turned it off to avoid unwelcome noise, then turn it back on and test it discreetly and do not cough or rake your throat from that moment on; b) do not spend your first moments with the audience hiding behind the lectern or fidgeting with the computer, engage the audience in full view, away from the computer if your wireless mike allows it.

MOVE # 6.   Relax. This blog and the scoop pages feature techniques to achieve that physically, but nothing relaxes more that knowing you are fully prepared and well rehearsed.

MOVE # 7.  Look good. Make an effort. But don’t dress like it is oscar night 🙂

By Jean-luc lebrun

Author: Jean-Luc Lebrun

This century: Writer on Scientific writing skills and scientific presentation skills, MC for scientific events, Podcaster, Radio Consultant, Trainer for Research Institutes in Engineering and Life Sciences, Singapore, and in European doctoral schools, as well as in South East Asia Universities. Last Century: Apple Computer, Advanced Technology Group, Technology Information manager. Then Director of the Apple-ISS Research Centre - a joint venture between Apple Computer and the National University of Singapore. Producer of TV program on IT for Singapore Channel 5.