I have had the privilege of traveling and presenting all over the country, and there is one thing that remains true about every speaking engagement; people want to connect with you, the presenter. If you are doing your job right, your audience will want to connect with you offline. However, if you are like me this can be the most stressful part of the entire presentation.
You see, I am an INTP on the Meyers-Briggs personality test. When you dissect this personality type, you discover someone that enjoys having people around but doesn’t want to have to talk to them. This is not a great quality when it comes to a presenter because wowing your audience does not just happen in the presentation space. It is your ability to connect on a human level that will leave a lasting impression. Author and renowned researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, beautifully describes the importance of connection when she says “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Knowing that building a connection is a weakness for me, a mentor of mine challenged me to start practicing it in my everyday life. Forcing myself to engage in conversations that I wouldn’t normally so that I can grow the muscle of conversation and connection. The more I practiced the more I realized, human connection is not difficult, it just takes practice.
Here are three practices I have found to help grow your small talk muscle.
Make strong eye contact.
Eye contact is one of the most basic ways to show respect to another person using nonverbal cues. It is also a sure-fire way to show that you are either interested in what the person has to say or not interested at all. Eye contact is a challenging thing for me to do as my distracted mindset makes it difficult for me to stay focused on what the person is sharing. However, if you can harness the power of eye contact in your one on one conversation you will communicate both value and worth to the person you are talking with.
Practice Tip: When chatting with a friend or stranger in your daily life practice eye contact. When the conversation begins, lock in and stay focused until the conversation is complete. If you are easily distracted, silence your phone, watch, or any electronic device that may pull your attention from your conversation.
Learn their name.
When it comes to connection with other humans, names matter. There is something special that happens when someone calls you by your name. Immediately, that person has ascribed worth to you because they were willing to make the effort to learn your name. If you want to make an immediate connection with a person, take the time to learn their name and then use it. The length you will know this person does not matter; learning and using their name even if just for a short period of time will make them feel valued and important.
Practice Tip: When trying to learn someone else’s name look for a visual characteristic that will remind you of that person and then attach the name to that visual. Visual reminders remain in our memory longer that auditory reminders, so by associating a name with a visual indicator you will lock their name in the long-term memory to be recalled later.
Ask good questions.
This is potentially the most important of all the tips for building human connection because good questions will help you get to the core of the person you are talking to. Many times, presenters will walk off stage or out of the boardroom and wait for people to come and talk with them, relying on the person to carry the conversation. This can often lead to short connections focused primarily on the presenter getting a pat on the back and good job from the audience member. This however does not result in human connection. What if instead the presenter accepted the good job or thank you and followed it up with a set of questions that help foster conversation and connection? Questions like: Where are you from? What brought you here today? What most peaked your attention as I was sharing? Asking intentional questions will not only foster conversation but they will grow the connection between the presenter and the audience member.
Practice Tip: This tip will require you to step out of your comfort zone. Take a trip to the local bar and strike up a conversation with a stranger. Use all three of the above tips to continue the conversation. Come prepared with several pre-selected questions so that you can easily maintain the discussion in the moment.
In a culture that lives in the digital, it is our job as presenters to pull us back into the analog of connection and connect on the most basic human level. Don’t get me wrong, human connection is hard but with these three practices, you will find yourself connecting and growing not only as a presenter but also as a person.
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