How To Connect With Your Audience

The following two tabs change content below.
Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

Latest posts by Kelly Swanson (see all)


“Our audiences see us as larger than life. In order to make our message stick and have lasting impact, we must figure out how to shorten the gap between us and them. We must master the art of connection.” Kelly Swanson

Why Connection Matters

In the years that I have been studying and coaching speakers, I have watched hundreds of them focus on what to say and how to say it, while leaving out the most important ingredient – the art of connection.  Standing on a stage and telling people what to do isn’t what it takes to get them to do it.  Successfully communicating your content may be enough to “get the job done” but it doesn’t do much to truly instill lasting change, alter perceptions, and motivate people to WANT to take your advice. That’s why it is so important that you connect and engage on a personal level with your audience.

We are all sales people up there – selling something – a truth, an idea, a message, hope, a cause, awareness. Whatever it is, we need buy in from our audience. And as everybody in sales knows, people buy from people they like, trust, believe, and feel like they know. This is not something you can simply tell them to do, it’s something you have to earn.  Your ability to connect and engage with your audience will determine your success on stage and your longevity in this business. Especially if you’re a motivational keynote speaker.

That may sound like scary news to you, but it shouldn’t be. It simply takes an awareness on your part, to go beyond the data to close the gap between you and your audience.

How To Shorten The Gap Between You and Them

Your audience sees you as larger than life. Not just because you wrote great marketing material that sings your own praises, but because you are up there in the first place.  Speaking in public is one of the top five fears most people have. So the very idea that you have the courage to be up there, puts you on a pedestal in their eyes. Add to that whatever credibility you have to your name (books published, appearances on TV, etc.) and you get even larger. Add to that an incredible life story about crashing in a plane and having to eat your friends, or winning the gold medal without limbs, and you have now dropped into that place where they can barely relate to you at all.  Many speakers love this place. They find great honor being held in such high acclaim. I am the opposite. I believe that if you can’t relate to me, then you can’t relate to my message. I can’t earn your trust, respect, and make you believe what I have to say unless I can find common ground. My ability to connect and engage with my audience is truly what gets me booked.  It’s what I feel makes the difference in a job and a calling.

So how do we shorten the gap between the pedestal and their hearts?  How do we connect?  By asking yourself this question:  Who am I on stage?

When I first start coaching a speaker, they want me to look at video so I can see how they do what they do. I don’t like to do that. I like to get to know the speaker – hear their voice – get a feel for their personality. Why? Because chances are really high that the speaker gets on stage and becomes someone else.  My job is to help them connect by truly tapping into who they are authentically speaking.

Sure, in comedy you take on a certain comedic personality.  I ramp up my personality on stage to become bigger.  But as a speaker, it is crucial that they feel like that is you up there – not you performing – not you in your Sunday school voice – not you overly polished and mechanical. If you don’t seem real to them, they disengage. Your ability to move your arms the right way, or your vocal variety, is not what makes an audience like you.  That’s just Public Speaking 101.  Connection has to go deeper.  It has to be more authentic. It has to be more you, less you on script.

When you speak to me from that stage, are you the same guy I met at the PTA meeting?  When you tell me a story, is it in the same voice and personality as you would tell me curled up on my couch with a glass of wine? Is your speech written the way you actually talk – the way conversation really flows – or is it written like it was submitted to Reader’s Digest?  Are you standing up there on stage with your arms held out at attention, pacing maniacally back and forth? Is that how you would tell me a story at the dinner table?

The key to connection is turning your speech into a conversation with the audience. Looking at them, nodding at them, reacting to what you think they are thinking, stopping mid sentence to try and figure out what word you want to use, having the courage to add a thought that just popped into your head. When you are this “in the moment” then so is your audience.

I would love to give you twenty tips to connect from stage, but I don’t think that will help you as much as giving you this assignment:

Write your speech or story the way you would tell it in conversation. Use the words YOU would use. Talk as if you are having a conversation, not performing lines of a play.  Record yourself telling it and dictate it if that helps you get it more relaxed.  Then practice the speech or story like you are telling someone beside you on the plane. Invite a group of friends over for dinner and try out your speech at the dinner table. Let the interrupt and ask questions. In fact, encourage it.  It will force you to tell it in a more conversational way. It will force you to be in the moment. Present.

And, yes, you can script every word of your speech and still make it sound like you’re authentically having a conversation. Trust me. I know.

As you write those words that will change their lives, remember that you aren’t just giving them facts, you are connecting and engaging on a personal level.  Your greatest tool? Story. Story connects in ways data can not.

Oftentimes it the speaker who stands there simply speaking from the heart who has a bigger impact than the speaker who has crafted every word. 

Having trouble with the delivery of your story? Then put Story Crafting Camp on your bucket list.    2016 Camp is already filled.  Stay tuned for details on 2017 camp – where people from all industries gather to master the art of connection and engagement through the power of story.