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Public Speaking at College: Develop a Relationship With the Audience

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You’ve spent all night preparing and practicing, running it through in your head. You feel confident and ready.

Your name is called. Walking to the front of the class, note cards in hand, you take your mark and begin to speak. Your nerves keep you from looking at their faces directly, but when you catch a glimpse, you see their disinterest, their wandering eyes. In that moment, you discover that they’re not listening to a word you are saying. So you speak louder and more passionately, still nothing. They are completely lethargic. Some are yawning; some are rolling their eyes; some are drawing on their notebooks. You become discouraged. “Why don’t the seem to care at all?”

One of the most challenging, yet vital practice in public speaking is developing a relationship with the audience even before you begin your material. If you want to ensure that what you’re communicating will reach not only the ears of your audience but the hearts of your audience, you must give them a reason to be interested.

If you belong to the group of people who are not naturally social and find no ability within yourself to strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger let alone a disinterested bunch of college students, knowing how to develop a relationship with a large group of people may seem impossible. However, there are ways to guide you in this implementation:

Establish Commonalities

Commonalities are the foundations for establishing any relationship. Without common interests, how is it possible to form friendships, connections, or a basic understanding of people? As you begin your presentation, establish what you have in common with the body of people you are speaking to. Give them a reason to give regard to what you say based on what you have in common with them.

Establish Credibility

Why is it that our judicial system has always been reluctant to put four year olds on the witness stand? The answer: lack of credibility. In order to make sure your words, thoughts, and opinions are entirely absorbed and believed by your audience, you must attest to how and why you are qualified to speak on the subject you are presenting. A four year old by definition cannot give a plausible testimony because of his or her lack of knowledge, experience, and overall naivety. Present yourself to the audience as an expert, not a novice.

Incorporate Humor

Laughter is sugar to the senses. Your audience will be so much more in tune to your presentation if you can take hold of their emotions. They will feel comfortable with you as the speaker, and their laughter will, in turn, energize you.

Also, do not take yourself seriously as a presenter. Be human, and show that you are not vulnerable to embarrassment. Should you make a blatant mistake, laugh at yourself; go along with your error. The audience will find your blunders familiar in themselves. Use it as a humorous digression from the presentation.

Make Eye Contact

Making eye contact is a way to connect with each individual in your audience. Unfortunately, this can be very uncomfortable for a speaker, but it is highly recommended. As a member of the audience, you’re more willing to pay attention if the speaker is making a direct visual connection with you.

(If eye contact is difficult for you, start practicing in your everyday interactions with peers. It will soon become a habit.)

Adjust to the Responsive Temperature in the Room

As you speak, you will have a sense of the audience interest level. If you feel that you are losing their interest, insert some audience participation or humor. If you feel that things are becoming wound up and your point is being lost in the humorous digressions, take it down a notch in your tone and reiterate your point. You must be somewhat reactionary to the enthusiastic temperature but also maintain your control of the time you have while speaking.

Do Not Be Offensive

As some topics and personal opinions may be offensive to some but necessary to present, a general rule to remember is that you will not please every person in your audience. However, blatant offensiveness, rudeness, and crassness is an excellent way to shut down the minds and ears of the group and waste your time completely. Have decency when you speak. Your reputation can be dependent on it.

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