I went to an ABBA tribute band performance a couple of weeks ago. They were theatrically and musically very good, however for the first half of the concert they did not connect with the audience. For me this was puzzling; ABBA songs are upbeat and popular. But the applause was only polite, there was no clapping, people did not sing/dance along when invited, and it actually became uncomfortable. As I thought about what they were doing/ not doing to cause this disconnect, I realized that these are the same things that apply to presenting.
From a physical perspective the singers were mostly at the back on the stage, even though there was plenty of room to be close to the audience. They also had two black speakers on the floor in front of them; to me these were highly visible and were a visual barrier, much like a podium can be a barrier to a presenter. Two small physical things like this can contribute to a psychological barrier between the presenter and the audience.
From a “human” perspective, I didn’t warm up to them for awhile. They succeeded in looking like ABBA and sounding like ABBA … obviously they weren’t ABBA, but who were they? What attracted them to this music? Where were they from? I think if they spent a few moments between songs to build a rapport with the audience, a little chit chat, tell stories about themselves, the feeling in the room would have been different. They also began their performance with a song that was one of ABBA’s lesser know hits … they needed a stronger opening.
So, as a presenter what did I learn from this experience? First, if possible, remove any physical barriers between you and your audience … that includes distance. Second, very early on in the presentation share something of you the person, beyond you the content/subject expert. You could do this in many ways, open with a story about yourself, have a little discussion with the audience very early in your presentation or have someone introduce you and include some interesting personal information. Third, make sure you demonstrate that you are interested in them as people, not just a faceless audience. And finally begin with something the audience can easily and quickly relate to.
What have you seen work to help presenters (or performers) quickly connect with an audience?
Refuse to be boring