3 Ways to Build a Relationship with Your Audience

Rita F. Pierson influenced the world as a professional educator since 1972, teaching elementary school, junior high, special education, and professional development workshops and seminars for thousands of educators.

Pierson is a great case study because her presentation echoes what we have been telling our clients for over a decade: people are influenced by “real” people — not by their PowerPoint. In her popular TED Talk, Every Kid Needs a Champion, Pierson models — in under eight minutes — how it’s done.

Her inspiring presentation teaches us three key lessons that can help us build a relationship with our audience:

Get Real – Quickly

Letting the audience see the real you takes practice and preparation.  Transparency can build a bond between you and your audience if the personal details you share are appropriate to the topic, the setting, and the audience.  Most importantly, making that connection quickly requires that you tell important stories succinctly. Notice how Pierson describes her 40 year experience in education in two sentences:

I have spent my entire life either at the schoolhouse, on the way to the schoolhouse, or talking about what happens in the schoolhouse. Both my parents were educators, my maternal grandparents were educators, and for the past 40 years I’ve done the same thing…

Tip: Think of the most powerful story you can tell about yourself.  Write it out, then cut the fat mercilessly until you are left with the essential elements that can paint a clear picture in the audience’s mind.

Build Bridges

Great presenters build bridges between their anecdotes and the presentation’s big story. They build bridges from their story to the audience’s story.  In our business, we call those bridges “transitions.” Notice how she connects her opening story to the content of her presentation:

...And so, needless to say, over those years I’ve had a chance to look at education reform from a lot of perspectives.

Pierson is a master bridge builder. If you watch the entire presentation, pay close attention to the way she transitions from stories to the main ideas of her presentation.

Tip: Plan transition statements to bring your audience along and get them ready for:

  • Your next point
  • Complex information
  • Controversial information
  • Your next main point

Think “Sound Bites”

After surveying thousands of audience members, we have learned that audiences truly believe that “less is more.”  Pierson’s 7.48 minute presentation proves that point.  And although she makes it look easy, presentations that are both succinct and powerful take preparation.

One way Pierson makes her presentation memorable is by inserting unforgettable sound bites, short statements that pack a lot of meaning with a few words — or that resonate with what the audience knows.  Here are three:

James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.

Everyone in this room has been affected by a teacher or an adult.

One year I came up with a bright idea. I told all my students, “You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students; they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it.”

Tip:  Plan and practice delivering short and memorable sound bites that reinforce the core message of your presentation.  They can be quotes, key ideas encapsulated in a few words, or one or two sentence anecdotes.

You too can build a relationship with your audience, whether delivering a 60 minute or an 8 minute presentation!

P.S. Sadly, Rita Pierson passed away only a month after she gave that talk.  The world is better because she was able to share her message at TED.

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