How To Connect With Your Audience

Connecting with your audience is vital to your business. 

It is the same for when you're on stage. 

Last week I wrote about every business is show business when it comes to public speaking. This week, I asked for tips and insights from a professional story coach, The Moth storyteller and podcaster and founder of The Listening Booth, Terence Mickey. 

Mickey thinks of the audience listening is a gift and, if you've done your work, what you have to say is a gift. It's a reciprocal relationship.

Here are tips of the trade from Mickey for connecting with your audience when you are on stage--

Connect with yourself first.

Do the hard work of figuring out your story because that is the process by which you connect with yourself. Which is what ultimately will help you connect with your audience.

Anxiety is a good sign. 

If you're anxious you're alive. If you're not nervous, you died between walking on stage and standing in front of the mic. Embrace anxiety as your friend--it's your energy. 


Once you are on stage, ground yourself by breathing for 10-30 seconds. Count 1,2,3 to breath in and 1,2,3 to breath out. As awkward as this sounds, Mickey says it works. It is the transition moment between anxiety and excitement.

"You have to breath, connect with your body and give yourself that beat to pause, find your place, stare the audience in the eyes and then speak directly to them."

For a wonderful example, watch Amanda Palmer's opening of her 2013 TED talk.

Start with a killer 1st sentence.

A killer 1st sentence--like Pamela Meyer's "Okay, now I don't want to alarm anybody in this room, but it's just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar."--starts you off with a bang and then you're off to the races. It builds your confidence and builds the audience's confidence in you. 

As importantly, you need a killer last sentence. Last line gives you force and a purpose because you know where you're going to land. 1st and last sentence are your guideposts and between them you weave your story.

This is in fact how Mickey has you you work on your story or presentation--write the first and last sentence. Then write the middle.

If you forget your line, acknowledge.

You are mid-presentation and suddenly you forget your line. Best thing to do is circle back to the last thing you said. Repeat it and it will reset you and you will remember.

You can also acknowledge it and tell the audience, 'I've lost my way for a second." They can all relate and will empathize and appreciate your honesty.

Connect with your audience. 

Make eye contact. Walk as close to your audience as possible and look them in the eye. Talk to them. And don't ever turn your back, even to read a slide. Remember that connecting to the audience is secondary to your presentation.

My tip: I now ask the stage people to adjust the lights during prep so that I can see the audience. If there are people I know, I ask them to sit where I can see them. If I don't know anyone, I look for friendly faces during intermission or before my presentation to introduce myself as the next speaker. I tell them I am looking forward to seeing them in the audience. It creates a connection even before the show and even perfect strangers are very happy to be of help.

Be yourself.

Mickey cautions that the fear of being in front of an audience often disconnects you from yourself. The trick to overcome it? Trust yourself to be yourself. Be charming. Be welcoming. Be human. Laugh and don't take yourself too seriously. 

"And the whole enterprise of a presentation won't work unless you have an audience. So it's important not to be scared of them but to be generous with them. And even though the content is important, the relational aspect trumps everything because you could have the secret to save the world and if you have not established a connection with the audience we're all doomed because no one will be inclined to listen."

So if you're in the mood for being generous, which is what sharing your story on stage with lots of people is all about after all, say yes to the next speaking engagement. Give the gift of speaking and you will be rewarded with applause, and so much more.

Thank you Mickey! 

This article first appeared on on November 17, 2017