Do you remember that iconic scene from the film classic Taxi Driver when DeNiro’s character, Travis Bickle, taunted the image in the mirror? Three times he asks the imaginary speaker “You talking to me?!” before losing control and demanding to know, “Well, who the hell are you talkin’ to?”
Have you been held captive in a meeting or presentation that held great promise but never delivered? Like Travis Bickle, you felt ignored, unacknowledged. Mr. Bickle represents a fundamental principle of effective communication: the audience is important. If you want your words to have impact, invite your audience to be part of the conversation. Yes, it is a conversation, whether speaking to many, a small group, or one person.
It’s a simple thing to do. See the people in the room and speak to them, one person at a time, giving one thought to each. Maintain this rigor and energy of the connection with the audience. You are creating engagement. It requires more than cursory eye contact. It demands investigation. Hold the contact with a person long enough to see what’s happening with her in that moment. If you invite and investigate, the audience feels seen and acknowledged. One of my clients captured the relationship between speaker and audience beautifully:
“There is a circular motion between you and the audience—giving, receiving, and responding. Relationship is about rapport and feedback and evoking a response in your audience. The reactions from the audience feed me. There are enough cues for it to be a dialogue.”
Is the physical connection and investigation with audience enough to stifle Travis Bickle’s lament? No, but it is a first step toward creating a relationship with them. The invitation must be strengthened by the substance of what you’re saying. Do you understand why your message matters to the audience? Knowing why forces you to consider the needs and expectations of your audience. Equally essential, you must know why your content resonates most strongly with you. I call it theWhy Factor. Getting at the whys helps you find the most effective way to share it with the audience.
Sharing your passion and point of view can be a giant invitation to the audience. You take a step toward the audience and, if you have impact, the audience takes a leap toward you. The audience is waiting for this invitation. Clients expressed it perfectly:
“Focus on finding the emotional connection. If I know what I am excited about, my audience will share an enthusiasm for it. It’s the human connection. Persuasion doesn’t happen with facts alone.”
“Make your points by helping the audience see your perspective, not by being a bulldozer. Thinking beyond the deck is important. It’s the idea of inviting the audience into something with you. Create an atmosphere and an environment.”
The next time you are preparing any business communication, whether for an internal meeting or a keynote speech, imagine Travis Bickle in the audience. He’s taunting you – “You talking to me?” Yes, I am Travis, because the audience comes first!