‘It’s all about connecting with your audience, nothing else matters, if you don’t connect you are dead’ says John Polson the founder of the immensely successful Tropfest short film festival. This possibly applies to everything we do in business, presenting, communicating, selling, customer service and leading.
We probably all get connecting intuitively. Like when we say ‘I just connected with him’, but what does that actually mean? Can connecting be broken down into actual repeatable behaviours that you can use every time to connect with your customers, a stakeholder, your audience? Well I’m going to try, but this is by no means a complete list.
The first thing that matters in building a connection is people like you.
Everyone has heard the first 30 seconds count, that first impression matters. This is when what you say or do sets the tone for people to like you, or not, and don’t dismiss that, as people like to do business with people they like.
Recently I had the privilege of hearing Mark Stephenson speak. When he was introduced, the MC did a short version of his bio. He is among other things an expert in both prime number cryptography and computer aided design. The intro went on for a couple of minutes and was packed with all his achievements, and to state it mildly, Mark is a super high achiever. The audience was thinking ‘Wow, don’t think we could connect with him. He’s up there in the stratosphere and I hope I can even understand what he’s going to say’.
Mark stood up to speak and the first thing he said was ‘You probably think I’m an arse now!” There was a brief second of silence before the whole auditorium exploded with laughter. People were thinking ‘We like this guy!’. Now you don’t have to swear but if you can tell people who you really are in the first moment that helps them know you and like you.
What happens in the next 30 seconds? Can you launch into your messages yet? Absolutely not, it’s too early and you are still building that connection.
In the next 30 seconds, connecting is about being relatable and your audience whether it’s a customer or a room full of people they need to feel ‘you get them’.
Did you see the first episode of Junior Master Chef on Sunday? All eyes were on Anna Gare, the new judge. When Anna was introduced to her young audience, all under 12, she said ‘I started cooking when I was your age and I could barely see over the counter’. Her audience laughed and immediately connected with her, she was relating to them and understood what it felt like being a child cooking.
Connecting is also about seeing your interaction as a value exchange. You might be giving your audience information, or a cool new tool, but they are giving you their time and attention. Your audience needs to feel they are getting something of value from you, something they can take away instead of just being sold to. This explains why there is so much free high value content on the internet. The people who give away free high quality high value content, know by doing that they are setting in motion a high value exchange. You initially engage with them, through the high value content (whether it’s downloading a free e book, or watching a video). It’s almost like a taste test, and if you like what you see you will probably buy what they are selling. They sold to you by connecting with you first through a value exchange.
These are some of the building blocks of connecting with other people. Of course the acid test of connecting is whether they would like to see you again? I know I would love to see Mark Stephenson present again, and again.
“Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry”. This quote from Stanford University emeritus professor James G. March has always struck a chord with me. I was again reminded of it recently when I was watching Mark Stephenson speak.
I realised at that moment that’s what great presenters and great leaders have in common. With poetry and plumbing, they are able to engage both our minds and our hearts (the poetry). Poetry is also the things that can happen in a presentation that make it memorable.
An ‘OK’ presenter or a novice presenter might just have the plumbing down pat, the facts, figures and the data, and make a ho hum presentation. A great presenter, working on the same material will intuitively realise that the poetry is missing. There is nothing there that engages, excites or connects with the audience. So how can you introduce ‘poetry’ into your next presentation? First of all there is the power of the unexpected. The predictability of a presentation makes it actually mind numbing. We can almost guess what the speaker is going to say before they say it. Presenters can break this pattern by doing something unexpected.
We once attended a presentation on change management when the presenter simply said “I want to start by sharing this with you”. And proceeded to show the Amazing Honda Ad called ‘The Cog’ which ends with the tag line “Isn’t it wonderful when things work?”. He then used this tag line to make the rest of his presentation work. It was unexpected and that made it powerful.
Poetry happens when you connect what you are saying with the people in the room. You present like you are talking to just one person and you speak conversationally. So often when I am listening to a TED talk, I feel the speaker is speaking to just me. Even though I know they are in an auditorium with thousands of people watching and I am watching a recorded version on my computer! The illusion is powerful because they use simple everyday language. Language that you would use if you were talking face to face with just one person. I am immediately reminded of the power of JFK’s vision around space travel when in 1961 he said ‘We will put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth by the end of this decade’. You can feel the poetry . Everybody connected with that and understood what he meant and indeed a generation of Americans worked to make it happen. Imagine if JFK had used obfuscating language like “Technology enabled, strategically focused inter galactic travel, best of breed,..”
The poetry gold standard of presentations is when presenters humanise their content and make it come alive by using stories. Not business stories but stories of the everyday, the ordinary, as this is where your audience mirrors itself in your stories. A CEO talking about dropping his kids off to school, or shopping at Bunnings on the weekend is presentation poetry gold.
Every time you take a risk in a presentation, it is an opportunity for your presentation to have poetry in it. Great presenters know this and often take risks. Mark Stephenson says he often walks out of presentations when leaders tell him ‘We can be innovative if we stay within the rules”. The walk out is a risk and shocking, but he knows in a matter of seconds people will follow him out and invite him back in. He’s making a point there that innovation only happens when you are ready to break the rules. Instead of saying this as a trite statement he stages a walk out to add gravitas to the situation and make it an unforgettable experience for people in the room. Risky but pure poetry.
Sometimes poetry happens by chance in presentations, but mostly you have to plan for it…