"Building rapport" is the name given to the process of creating an understanding and harmonious bond between yourself and someone else.
When rapport is present you feel at ease, happy and comfortable in the other person's company. Your conversation flows effortlessly without any awkward pausing. You've "clicked"! You feel understood, respected and valued. Loved.
For the public speaker that someone else you're seeking to build rapport with is not a single person. It's your audience and good rapport with them ensures your message will be actively listened to.
Have you ever stood in front of an audience and known you weren't being listened to? Have you watched yawns being stifled, caught people peeking at their phones or muttering quietly to their neighbors?
I have and the more I've tried to rescue the situation, often the worse it got.
So what was going on?
I get it right most of the time and count myself as a good "people" person. I like people and mostly they like me. However when they'd rather I stopped talking immediately I am obviously missing something critical!
With reflection and analysis I discovered that something was building rapport.
Rapport is what happens when you have everything in harmony. Your speech is right. The audience receives it well. They enjoy listening to it as much as you enjoy delivering it. However that happy harmonious state doesn't occur without conscious effort.
The very first thing I learned was that building rapport meant focusing on the audience. Not me, but my audience.
I had "to get over myself".
To achieve the synergy I pictured in my imagination I needed to tailor my speech to fit who was listening to it.
I needed to know:
Then using all that information I could shape my material to meet them.
The other ingredient crucial to the mix was truly understanding that first impressions count. A speaker has approximately 5-10 seconds from the time they stand up to talk to lay the foundation for empathy or good will.
In summary ...
Having an audience is a privilege. Their gift to you is their presence. The gift we give in return is recognition.
Carefully building rapport carries a potent message: "I see you. I understand and respect you." It creates trust and where there's trust there is willingness to follow, to listen.
In essence building rapport is about identifying similarity. When we show an audience that we are like them we find a mutual starting place for the shared journey of the speech.
I discovered a couple of gems as part of this process.
The first was the more I focused on the audience and their needs, the less self conscious and fearful I became as a speaker.
The second falls into the category a friend calls: "startling observations on the obvious".
It is much easier to give speeches or presentations to people we intuitively understand. These are people like ourselves and the people we make our friends.
To build rapport with people who don't share the same interests, background or beliefs we have to step out of our shoes, out of our comfort zone and into theirs! It's harder but I think the rewards in understanding are worth the effort.