Business Networking: Connecting with your Audience

I recently attended a public speaking contest that’s held annually at the university where I teach a public speaking class. The contest was made up of over 40 students that are currently enrolled in public speaking and willing to take their time on a Friday afternoon to deliver 7 minute speeches while being judged by professors in the department. (It’s always fun to be judged.)
 
I’ve judged this contest in the past so I’m familiar with the process. As a judge, you simply observe each of the presentations and rate the speakers on a series of categories included on a written rubric – strong opening, knowledge of topic, quality of delivery, citing of at least two sources, and so on.
 
At the start of the contest, there are presentations taking place in maybe 8 different rooms with about 5 speakers per room and 3 judges, along with an audience made up of students and other instructors. The winners end up delivering their presentations again with different judges and audiences. The final round ends up with 6 speakers, judges that don’t have any of the top 6 finalists as students, and an audience of over 60 people. Then there’s a first, second, and third prize. All cash money!
 
business networking - connect to your audienceI always encourage my own students to participate in the contest and in past years (there’s no easy way to say this) my students have won. In this event, I had 3 students participate and none of them made it to the finals. And they all did very well.
 
What amazed me is that all of the finalists were reliant on index cards and their written notes. In fact, the first place winner of the contest read most of her speaking points straight from her index cards. She didn’t connect with the audience. But she did connect with the judges that never looked up from their rubric.
 
Rubrics are everywhere and a big thing in the academic world. Examples of rubrics outside of the classroom might include phone scripts, elevator speeches, phrases you use for every “fact find” you conduct at a sales meeting, overcoming objections, and any other “one size fits all” approach you’re expected to practice and often memorize as a sales leader.
 
Although standards like rubrics are important, if you don’t connect with your audience in a sales meeting, business networking event, job interview, or speaking engagement, all the rubrics (outside of the world of academe that is) won’t amount to very much. Success outside of the classroom comes down to the connections you make.
 
And here are some ways to make them:
 
Begin with a Compelling Story
Everyone has a story to tell, so tell yours. Why did you get involved in your profession? Why do you help people? How did someone benefit from your help? How did you overcome a challenge? Stories can be very captivating. And a good story is an excellent way to connect with your audience – someone you meet at an event, a prospect, client, or interviewer. Have stories prepared and get good at telling them – the less wordy the better. In fact, stories are a great way to kick off a presentation!
 
Ask Questions
What questions would you want someone to ask you? Write them down. Now practice asking those questions of others. What brings you to this event? What type of work do you do? How did you get involved in your line of work? Who are great referral partners for you? And other questions that are interesting to ask. Asking great questions is an effective way of learning more about those you meet but also sets the tone for the conversation. Often enough, when you’re asking questions, the follow up afterward becomes, “How about yourself?”
 
Listen, Listen, and Then Listen More
Learn to restate and reflect on the points that people make and how their experiences made them feel. (I discussed this in a recent 3 Minute Round). If you can truly listen to others and actively capture what they’re saying and why they’re saying it, they will often extend the gift of listening right back to you.
 
Give Specific Examples
Offer examples about how you get hired, what problems you solve, how you meet prospects, and how you work best with referral partners. Sometimes these examples take the form of stories you might share. “Here’s an example of how I partner with other CPA’s.” Examples and stories are always much more engaging than talking about how good you are, smart you are, and successful you are.
 
Close with a Bang
For speeches and presentations, I always suggest closing with a bang – story, quote, call to action, summary, request, or favorite magic trick (well, depending on the audience). If you’re not giving a formal presentation, your bang up close might be a request for a next step whether it be for a meeting, scheduling your next phone conversation, or a promise you hopefully intend to keep. Leave your audience (whether a party of one or more) with a good impression so you can open with a bang upon the next meeting.
 
Checking the boxes on a rubric might be important if you’re in a contest, following a specific set of rules, or scoring at home. 

But in the real world, it is and will always be about the connection.

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