When I was growing up, there was a framed print in our living room depicting the face of John F. Kennedy with a billowing American flag backdrop. That image stayed on the wall year in and year out, while other items came and went. New couch? Same wall art. New carpeting? JFK stays. Scant wonder that it is now an essential component of my childhood memories.

Without having planned it in advance, I mentioned this during a speech the other day, and lo and behold, the majority of audience members perked up and started smiling – actually smiling – and nodding their heads. I paused and asked if perhaps there were others in the room with the same memory, and sure enough, people of all ages and backgrounds had a similar print in their homes or a relative’s home. Without any effort whatsoever, I had made a meaningful connection with my audience.

If you are speaking in order to persuade, inspire, or motivate, the importance of connecting with your audience is the first order of business. Second is establishing credibility, and third is finding common ground. Once you have accomplished those three, then the only thing left to do is to make a compelling case for your position. But without that meaningful connection, your efforts at the other three Cs will fail.

There is no “one way” to connect. Depending on your content and personality, you may have a particular method that only works for you. But here are some important tips that will help any speaker accomplish the first of the Four Cs:

1. Be yourself. We have many posts on this topic, so I will not repeat it here.
2. Resist the urge to launch into your main content. Use your introduction – which should constitute 10-15% of your entire speech – as an opportunity to become irresistable.
3. Share a personal anecdote. This is a great way to establish yourself as a fellow human being instead of just a talking head.
4. Individualize the audience members. Speak to individual audience members through eye contact and physical presence rather than addressing them en masse. The rule of thumb is two to three seconds per person.
5. Never, ever underestimate the power of good posture. A speaker with rounded shoulders and downcast eyes will never connect, no matter how profound the rhetoric.

It seems fitting to end with a rarely seen quote of JFK’s:

“Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

– Barbara