Building Rapport with Your Audience

Several years ago I was interviewed by a doctoral student about how to effectively build rapport while speaking to a large group with whom I have never spoken. I had to rank the answers in order of importance and explain each one. After talking with this student and listening to her insights, I walked away with an increased conviction that ineffective communication leads both the leader and those he/she leads nowhere. I know this sounds obvious, but why do leaders continue on this path?

I don't know about you, but I have been the deliverer of both helpful and terrible moments of communication. If I am to become a great leader, I must improve my batting average in communicating with my teams. This can become complex and require constant attention. For example, I spend time each week communicating with my paid staff, our Directors of Guest Services on five campuses, our two-layers of volunteer leaders (60 people), and the general volunteer base (875 people). This doesn't include other staff or vendors. How do I get us to move in the same direction? How do we take a simple vision, put it into action, and see lives influenced? I believe the answer is consistently great communication regardless of the medium.

If you lead staff or volunteers, one of the most critical elements that contributes to your longevity, success, and influence is your ability to communicate well. How well do you think you communicate? What if I asked the people you lead how well you communicate? Feel confident? Nervous? If you are not feeling confident, you can work on this skill and expand your influence.  

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of evry part of your life.
— Bryan Tracy

What and how you communicate influences the level of engagement and impact your team has with others. What if you could get through to more people and that breakthrough alone created helpful movement in your organization?

Here are 15 ways that have helped me build rapport with any audience:

  1. Understand the audience - know who they are
  2. Be with the audience - avoid elevating yourself as a superior
  3. Listen to the audience - observe their body language and facial expressions
  4. Know your content - your knowledge builds trust
  5. Respect time - deliver content in a concise manner
  6. Communicate with clarity - ambiguity leads to frustration
  7. Apply content to the world of the audience - provide helpful next steps
  8. Use carefully selected visuals - images are the language of the 21st century
  9. Be vulnerable - being authentic gives intimacy permission
  10. Use appropriate humor - disarms the listener 
  11. Tell stories - brings along your audience emotionally and intellectually
  12. Mingle before you communicate - connect before you communicate
  13. Communicate with passion - an audience needs to believe your conviction
  14. Harness emotion - leverage the responsive feelings an audience gives
  15. Mind your non-verbal speak - distracting gestures overshadow your words
The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
— Sydney J. Harris