Enthusiasm is infectious and so it is vital that aspiring public speakers and presenters learn how to use it to create great rapport. But I sometimes get asked, "How enthusiastic should I be?"
I heard someone ask this question over twenty years ago while on sales training course and the resulting discussion has had a lasting impact on my approach to public speaking.
Our instructor started by throwing the question open to the group and our responses were along the lines of:
- As enthusiastic as possible ? - after all, if enthusiasm is good then more enthusiasm must be better - yes?
Yes that seems logical but what happens if we are too excited? Have you ever been put off by an over zealous presenter? They get carried away with their own sales story and forget to ask about you and your needs don't they?
- As enthusiastic as I need to be?
Yes, but how do we know how enthusiastic to be? Is it the same for every audience? Does it depend on the context?
After allowing us to explore these kind of ideas these for a few minutes our tutor gave us his answer.
"To create great rapport, you need to be an inch more enthusiastic than your audience!"
Now I don't know about you but my first reaction was "What do you mean?"
When we asked him to clarify, he explained that we needed to learn how to calibrate our expression of our enthusiasm to the current state of our audience.
"If they are already believers, open or even enthusiastic to our messages, then you can start with a pretty high level of enthusiasm. If they are sceptical or even hostile to begin with, then you need to show empathy by turning your enthusiasm down, at least to begin with. But that is only the first step."
"If your audience are as negative, or sceptical at the end of your speech, as they were at the beginning then you have failed. Establishing great rapport is not much good if you don't use it to lead your audience to a better place."
That's where the "inch more enthusiastic" bit comes in.
Still struggling to get your head around this?
It took me a while to really understand what he meant. I watched and listened to lots of great communicators and presenters and slowly the power of that simple phrase dawned on me.
I find that it helps me to think of a presentation as an emotional journey, designed to shift our audience's opinions.
That journey has a several stages, which often go along the lines of:
e.g. negative, then sceptical, then curious, then open, then exited, then convinced.
Once you have demonstrated, through that you are "like" them, using empathy, you can can start to increase your energy and enthusiasm, a little to see if your audience will follow you. If you have established great rapport, they will follow you, and you will know that you have the power to bring some, if not all, of your audience with you.
All you need to do now is to adjust your level of rapport to match where you need them to be, stage by stage.
This is known as pacing and leading
- Pacing - Mirroring the language and non verbal communication of the people you are aiming to influence
- Leading - modelling the kind of emotional state you want them to be in be in next
Great rapport is a blend of these two components. By being an inch more enthusiastic than your audience you are showing both empathy and leadership.
So next time you have a presentation to give, think about your audience. Get a feel for where they are "at" early in the presentation or preferably before you start.
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