In a presentation setting there is the “us” – the audience – and the “them” – the speaker(s). As a speaker, you want to always try to breach the “us/them” dynamic. Makes sense, doesn’t it? The last thing you want between you and your audience is a barrier. Especially one that doesn’t need to be there. How can you overcome it?
By including some details in your speech — especially at the beginning — that show an interest in your audience, individually and as a group. Remember my advice to arrive early? If you found the time to interact with the audience one-on-one before the presentation, your introduction is an opportunity to connect more directly with the audience by mentioning someone by name in relation to the topic or your pre-speech discussion.
There is a concept in both psychology and marketing called “affinity.” It explains how people tend to like people who appear to like them. Dale Carnegie was a big proponent of this line of thinking. Show an interest in another person or find a connection with them and more likely than not they will reciprocate.
By using this engagement technique, you help to bridge that gap. Or as I sometimes say, you break down the audience-speaker barrier.
Another way to immediately engage your audience is by tying your talk into the overall event or something that has occurred since you all arrived at the venue. This is most applicable when you’re speaking at a multi-day conference but it can also be applied in court or at various business settings.
If you have a funny story about something that occurred at the event or the courthouse, it can be a nice, light way to start off, grab everyone’s attention (everyone wants to hear about what is going on around them) and it helps you tie yourself to your audience and your surroundings. If you have a serious story, it can be a dramatic way to kick off a presentation, as long as you are careful not to touch on raw nerves.
This last method can be risky, as your story will not often be time-tested, but if pulled off with the right degree of dramatic flair, it can be just the trick to get the crowd on your side from the start.