Leap the first frontier: Connect early with your audience


by Peter Watts

To make an audience like and trust you early in a presentation is a holy grail. The new Star Trek movie shows us how.

How many times have you been to the movies and almost trampled as everybody rushes to be first out of the theatre the moment that the end credits roll? Few of us stick around to watch those final frames, hence the number of films where all the important names now appear at the beginning of the movie and not the end.

What we’re seeing is the behaviour of an audience who have just sat through the shared experience of a presentation (or film), and remained nicely isolated as solitary individuals. Nothing has touched them as a group to produce a shared action other than dash-for-the-exit. If this movie had been a sales presentation, then it’s outcome would have been polite handshakes and “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Star Trek produces a different outcome, and I saw that  that actively demonstrated as the end-credits rolled. As the original 1960’s Star Trek theme music pumped 1960’s sci-fi Americana out of the Dolby surround-sound, not a single audience member moved so much as an inch from their seat.

The music is re-mastered, but unmistakeable. Audience: spellbound. By the time the first person stood-up to leave, the popcorn cleanup-crew were standing at the front and brandishing brooms like cattle-prods.

Whether it’s a movie or a presentation, every audience has invisible bonds that connect them together as a group. Glancing around the Thursday night movie crowd, the common bond appeared to be age. We were almost all old enough to remember from childhood the original TV Star Trek, and that theme music was reaching out and holding us.

When you link to a common value, you build trust and rapport with an audience. That link then provides the vital connection that bonds you to that audience as a credible presenter.

The concept is called ethos, and amongst its various components such as knowledge, reputation, and integrity, is the aspect of similarity. How similar are you to your audience, and can you link with them by slipping in amongst the common connections that hold them together as a group.

Some similarities are visual and obvious, such as how the audience dress and behave amongst themselves. Are they formal or informal? Outgoing or reserved? The NLP technique of mirroring tells us to establish rapport by consciously reflecting those factors back at the audience, thus projecting an image and behaviour pattern that is reassuringly familiar.

Other links are more subtle. The questions you are looking to answer are:

  • How does my message or product relate to the audience
  • How do I relate to my audience
  • How do my audience relate to each other

The more answers that you can identify, and the more that you can weave strands of similarity into your presentation, the more the audience will see you as being “one of us”.

Find ways as part of your planning process to speak with prospective audience members beforehand, or speak to others who have presented to this audience in the past. At the very least, Google for nuggets such as values, mission statements, or news articles that reflect the people that you’ll be presenting to.

It isn’t necessary to find common links that connect to all 100% of the audience in order for the magic to work. The teenage couple sitting immediately beside me, keys in hand and legs in athlete’s crouch starting-pose, clearly wanted to leave, but because the rest of the audience were transfixed, they too stayed in place. Clearly they were thinking that if everybody else was paying rapt attention, then they should too.

This is the beauty of ethos; connect with enough of the audience and even those outside the immediate chain will fall under its spell through the power of peer pressure.

If you can identify and merge with the common bonds that link a group together, then they will see you as being “one of us”. You will have met the audience where they’re at, and there can be no stronger place from which to boldly go, where no presenter has gone before.

Now why is my grammar-checker insisting that I have a split-infinitive?

 

Links:

For more inspiration on making an early connection to your audience, try these four ideas from Presentation Pro, Dr. Michelle Mazur

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