One of the easiest tips about speaking is also one of the most ignored: Meet your attendees one-on-one.
If you think of the last conventional talk you’ve heard from a conventional speaker, he or she arrives after everyone else has assembled, talks to few people (if any), and then at the appointed time, walks up to the podium and begins their presentation.
And there’s nothing wrong with this … if you’re content with being conventional. (Quick: Tell me anything you remember from the last talk like that. Point made.)
That’s why coming in early and connecting with your audience before you speak has become one of my cardinal rules. You won’t believe the benefits you’ll gain in attention and engagement just by doing this. But, despite my saying this, I know a lot of people are going to continue to come a minute or so early, ignore their audience and start their talk. How do I know this? Because I give speakers this advice over and over again, and they still revert to what is comfortable, no matter how unprofitable it may be.
The funny thing is, if you spend time briefly meeting your audience one-by-one, before you speak, not only do you stand a better chance of delivering a speech that engages your audience, but you also begin to create relationships that will make your speaking engagement far more valuable from a business development and relationship building perspective. In other words, you might gain as much after your speech as you do during it!
Begin to connect before your speech
So don’t detach from your audience and then magically hope they will attach to you and your message. Instead, reach out to your attendees, make yourself known to each person, allow them to get acquainted with you as both an expert and a nice human being. The people who came to hear you speak will be much more inclined to consult and/or refer business to you if they get to know you first instead of existing as nothing more than an anonymous person in a conference room chair. And if you are in private practice, meeting people at these functions and getting referrals is usually one of the primary reasons you are speaking at a training program to begin with (in addition to service and other more altruistic reasons).
Final point: This tip are useful whether you are speaking alone or on a panel. In fact, when you are on a panel, it is even more important that you spend time connecting with your audience before the program. If, instead, you sit up at the table and chit chat only with your fellow speakers, you are strengthening a perception of “us versus them” — speakers versus audience. It may not overtly put them off because unfortunately audiences are used to this bad treatment, but it certainly won’t help you connect with them.
So be different. Surprise your audience. Introduce yourself to them one at a time; shake their hands; and remember to get some piece of information that will help you fine-tune your speech on the fly to even better meet their needs.
And if you can mention one or two of the audience members during your presentation to show that you remembered them, they will never forget you.