Public Speaking Secrets for ESL (2015)

Chapter 4: Build a Rapport with your Audience



Milosh felt prepared for his presentation. He had listened to himself more than several times, rehearsed his presentation as well as practicing it in the presence of friends who provided him with useful constructive criticism.


He felt his accent was less pronounced than ever before and in the process of writing his speech, he made sure he knew his topics jargon, but what he felt was even more important, able to translate that into an everyday language his audience could understand.


And he had gone the extra mile, as advised, to produce slides and back up handouts in case the computer plan failed or someone wanted hard copies to take away.


Yup! He felt thoroughly prepared. Then it happened. Someone asked him if he knew how vital it was to create a rapport with his listeners. He hadn’t thought of that.


Even though Milosh had a moment of panic, he soon calmed himself down and did a bit of research of how to do that. He thought it was very fortunate he had started working on his presentation early enough to discover how to convince the audience to be on his side.


All the best professional motivational speakers know a tip that they all too often fail to share with other speakers who are beginning their speaking career.


Whether you’re planning on making presentations a career or you’re only when speaking in public when pushed, it’s a secret that you should learn right now: it’s essential you learn how to build a rapport with your listeners.


Granted, this is essential for every speaker. But for those who speak English as a second language and those who may be speaking with an accent this is especially vital. This could mean the difference between gaining the acceptance of those listening to you or to have them sitting in front of you criticizing not only your every move, but also your every use of inflection.


There are basically seven easy ways you can build nearly an instant rapport with a audience – even if you feel they’re a hostile group of people when you step on the stage or in front of the podium.


  1. Be your own “warm up” act.


What do I mean by this? Talk to people before your presentation begins. This may mean walking through the aisle, if you’re located in a larger auditorium type space or if the group is smaller sitting around with them chatting with a cup of coffee or tea in your hand.


Either way, breaking the ice, so to speak, before you begin your talk really does work wonders when you’re a presenter.


This works for those who speak English as their first language, but it also is vitally important if English is your second language. It gives your audience a “preview” of your accent and how to pronounce your words. While you chatting, they’ll be processing – whether they realize it or not – the way you speak.


During your “warm up act” your audience is also getting to know you better, not only personally but also gauging your professional expertise. It’s more difficult to be hyper critical of someone they already have made some conversation with than some who’s standing in silence or pacing with worry.


  1. Ensure your speech and your intentions promote your audience’s best interests – and not yours.


If this sentence is a bit vague or fuzzy when you first hear it, but if you allow the meaning to sink in for a moment or two, that light bulb above your head will switch on.


We both know that this presentation is vital to your future. But have you ever stopped to think why these individuals are listening to you? Perhaps this very information you have is vital to them? Have you ever thought they’re attending today to improve their future, guarantee their promotion?


If you haven’t, think about it. Then do everything in your power to help them understand and digest this material and make it their own. They will be grateful to you.


In other words, you can have two choices once you stand up there and start presenting your material. You can either use this time to “sell” them on some topic or you can view your talk as an opportunity to serve them.


Believe it or not, your audience will recognize the difference immediately. They’ll know once you start talking whether you’re sincere in “serving” them or you’re just paying lip service to that idea. On the other hand, your listeners are no doubt sophisticated enough to know when some is only out to sell them something, whether they need it or not.

How do you want to be remembered? As someone who helped another along their own path, or the individual who tried to hard-sell them?

  1. Look audience members in the eye.

If you’re fearful of standing at the podium and talking to your audience, you may be tempted to look at the wall behind your audience. I did this at one time. I had hoped the audience would think I was looking at them. In reality I was only fooling myself.


You really need to take the bull by the horns – or in this case the stage fright by the fear – and look your audience in the eye. By this, I don’t mean a quick glance stage right and then a quick glance stage left.


No, choose someone seated in front of you and look him or her straight in the eye. Do this for a few moments, perhaps while you’re making a specific or important point, then move on to another individual.


This isn’t as easy as it sounds. As you do this you’ll also have to know where you are in your presentation. If you’re following a mind-map outline you’ve already revealed for your audience’s viewing it becomes easier. You’re far less likely to lose your place in your speech.


Eye contact is vital to building a quick rapport. Give it a try. Not only will you audience feel it, and be more willing to forgive you for any deviations in your speaking that results from your accent or your searching for the right word. But, you’ll also feel it nearly immediately and you’ll feel much more at ease.

  1. Approach your topic from your audience’s perspective

This tip it’s vastly similar to the previous one about “serving” your audience. Of course, your immediate, personal goal is to get through with this presentation in one piece. And hopefully in a manner that may even put you on a short list for a promotion or help your standing at work.


But your long-terms is it to address the concerns of your listeners. If you’re all colleagues and you’re working on a project, then you know either intuitively or because you’ve talked to them individually about this topic, exactly what their concerns are.


If you’re speaking before a group of people with whom you’re not familiar, then you’re probably presenting materials we all grapple with. Show them you understand exactly what they’re going through. They’ll appreciate your concern and your ability to help them deal with these concerns.

  1. Avoid using language that may offend your audience.

This may seem like a no-brainer. However, as a student of English as a second language there still may be a few words that trip you up. Some words can be taken the wrong way, some of which may be sexually or racially charged.


This is why it’s extremely important for you to have someone you trust listen to your presentation. If they don’t say anything about double-entendres embedded in your presentation, then ask them outright. Better to double check your wording than to make a major faux pas.

  1. Interweave stories throughout your presentation.

Humans, it seems love to listen to stories and storytellers. I believe it’s somehow embedded through our DNA. You’ll build a lasting rapport with your audience that will bond you. But more than that, the audience will remember what you’ve said and it’s important because you’ve linked it with a story they’re able to relate to.

  1. Be sure your body language says what you intend it to say

Always keep in mind that as the person who is informing your audience, you are the established authority in their eyes. This is true whether it’s a group of strangers that you’re speaking to and you’re not sure of the level of their understanding or if you’re giving a presentation to your supervisors.


You might not believe the latter statement, but it’s true. At this moment you probably have more current information regarding the subject than your supervisor has. Otherwise, he would be the person giving the presentation.


This means that, first and foremost, your posture needs to speak volumes about you. You need to stand or sit so you have an immediate command presence in the room. You’ve probably already figured out slouching, legs crossed and other positions which say “I really don’t care” are not appropriate at this time.


Additionally, your audience immediately believes, upon seeing this, that you aren’t being sincere with them. When that happens, they will no longer accept your or maybe even listen to it any more.


Not quite sure what your body is saying about you? Then have a friend (one you can trust, of course!) evaluate your body language. Sit or stand as you would giving the presentation. You can even do a dry run of the speech.

Here’s an even better idea. Have someone record you while you’re rehearsing your presentation. Then you study it. Are there areas in which your body language isn’t conveying what you want it to? Could you stand taller or be more poised at places throughout the presentation?


After you view it once, take those movements you believe need polishing and do just that. Decide – perhaps again with a trusted friend – how you can convey confidence or authority in areas in which you seem lacking. Then once you believe you’ve conquered it record yourself again.


If that sounds like too much work, you may just want to stand in front of a mirror or position a wall mirror so you can view yourself.


In either case the idea is discover the best way to use body language to not only impress upon the audience that you’re the authority, but that you’re open and willing to connect with them as well.


It may seem like a tall order at the moment, but once you begin to practice, you’ll see it’s much simpler than it sounds.


If you follow these seven tips to building rapport with your audience, you’ll discover that building a rapport with your audience is easier than you were led to believe. You’ll also discover that the members of the audience will be rooting for you to succeed. And that’s always a god feeling.


In the following chapter you’re going to learn how easy it is to make the best use of your language – even if you’re giving the talk in your second language, English. Follow me to the next chapter to learn these normally well-guarded secrets.