Building Rapport  - Building Harmony

"Building rapport" is the name given to the process of creating an understanding and harmonious bond between yourself and someone else. For the public speaker that someone else is your audience. Good rapport 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 or caught people peeking at their watches? 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 them and mostly they like me but clearly this time I had missed something critical.

With reflection and analysis I discovered that something was building rapport.

rapport [rap-pore]

a sympathetic relationship or understanding [French]

Related or similar words - bond, relationship, link, tie, sympathy, harmony, affinity, empathy

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.

Elements of audience rapport

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:

  • who my audience was - age range, the gender mix, ethnicity, shared cultural values, religious or group affiliations, primary language, educational level, how much they knew about my topic already ...
  • why they were there to listen to me - because attendance was compulsory, voluntary (out of interest), to have a problem solved, to show support ...
  • what their concerns were - are there issues around my topic? Are they neutral, in agreement or against?
  • what their expectations were - a formal presentation, an opportunity to ask questions and get answers, an opportunity to extend their knowledge
  • what their vocabulary was - are they familiar with the specialized vocabulary (jargon) around my topic?
  • what their general beliefs might be - are they at variance with my topic? Or are they congruent?
  • what they had in common with me - background experiences, living situations...

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 ...

Rapport builders are:

  • dressing and grooming appropriately for the occasion
  • being organized, ready with suitable content
  • demonstrating in your opening statements that you know who you're talking to because you've done your homework
  • using inclusive language - "we" rather than "I"
  • identifying and emphasizing your common ground respectfully and sincerely
  • avoiding jargon unless everyone knows what you're talking about
  • showing that you're human too by sharing personal experience in the stories you tell
  • being mindful of body language and making eye contact
  • appearing confident, positive, in control and open
  • understanding the impact of your vocal delivery

Having an audience is a privilege. Their gift to you is their presence. The gift we give in return is recognition. Building rapport says 'I see you. I understand and respect you.' It creates trust and where there's trust there is willingness to follow, to listen.

Harmony - building rapport

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 gem as part of this process. The more I focused on the audience and their needs, the less self conscious and fearful I became as a speaker.

The second discovery falls into the category of what 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.

"You never truly know someone until you've walked a mile in his shoes."

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"Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
Rudyard Kipling