When you establish rapport with your audience, they become your partners in a dialog, allies in your presentation. They’ll want you to succeed. They’ll overlook your nervousness and lack of polish. They’ll laugh at jokes they’ve heard before. And they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt even if they lose the thread of your logic.

Here are eight ways to build rapport with any audience:

1. Talk to people before your presentation begins.

Introduce yourself as people gather. Shake hands. Ask them about themselves, what they do, and why they are there. Smile.

2. Have your audience’s best interests at heart.

Use your presentation as an opportunity to serve your audience, not to impress or “sell” them.

3. Establish eye contact.

Look people in the eye one person at a time. Hold their gaze for 5 to 7 seconds, and then look someone else in the eye. (A word of caution: some cultures consider direct eye contact intrusive and rude, so be careful.)

4. Speak simply and with conviction.

Don’t give a speech; have a conversation with your audience. Use words and expressions you normally do. Say “I,” “we,” and “you,” when appropriate. Speak a little louder than usual. (Doing so injects more energy into your voice.) And use your customary gestures; just make them bigger.

5. Approach your presentation from your audience’s perspective — not your perspective.

Address their concerns. Speak to their interests, values, and aspirations. Help them solve problems that bother them, or achieve goals that are important to them. Avoid words — jargon and acronyms — they don’t understand. Cite evidence they find credible.

6. Dress appropriately.

Dress a little more formally than your audience in order to establishe your credibility and authority. Dress appropriately for your profession. If you’re a lawyer speaking to high school seniors, you don’t have to dress down. Look the part. Wear your business attire. On the other hand, if you’re a construction worker making a team presentation to the CEO and CFO of a hospital as part of a bid process, no one will expect you to outdress them. Whatever you wear, make sure it’s neat and clean.

7. Avoid using humor or language that might offend them.

Audiences are touchy these days. And once you offend them, you’ll rarely regain their trust or goodwill. Toastmasters International™ suggests avoiding language or topics best left in the “bathroom, barroom, or bedroom.” Generally, you can’t go wrong if you use humor that lets people laugh at you and at your foibles. Also avoid stereotypes of all sorts.

8. Tell stories to engage their imaginations.

Most audiences — highly technical audiences are an exception — relate to a personal story.

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Also see “How to Connect with your Audience” and “What to Do When Things Go Wrong.”

For information about how Chris Witt can help you become a more powerful speaker, contact us.