Public Speaking Rapport

Talk to your audience… not at them

I’ve just had a great long weekend in London. I took Friday off and went down on the train. Had a stroll on the embankment, visited the Tower of London and the highlight of the weekend… a visit to the Globe theatre to see A Midsummer Nights Dream.

The Globe theatre is constructed in the original Shakespearian style, circular on plan with an open air section in front of the stage. This is theatre as Shakespeare meant it to be – theatre in the raw.
The layout allows the actors to interact with the audience, to form a bond, to pull them into the play. Public Speakers call this interaction "Rapport" and that’s what this post is all about… Rapport.

A speech is not a monologue

As a Public Speaker you should never think of your speech as a monologue, a one way process. Although only one person speaks, a speech is still a two way process between the speaker and the audience. Your job is to establish and reinforce that interaction, to make the audience feel involved.

"A speech, even a boardroom presentation, is live theatre… More important, what makes a memorable speech is the same thing that makes a memorable stage play, the quality of the connection between the audience and the player."
Tony Carlson from his book The How of Wow

Let’s see how the actors make that connection and then see how you can do the same in your speeches and presentations.

How the actors create Rapport


The layout of the Globe theatre increases the interaction between the actors and the audience. The stage is low and the audience closest to the stage are standing. The actors aren’t performing to a blacked out theatre, they can touch the audience, they can sense their reactions, they can see the whites of their eyes. But Shakespeare used lots of other tricks to create rapport with the audience.

  1. Humour – humour creates an immediate bond between the actors and the audience and the laughter of the audience is their way of taking part. Shakespeare could be described as the Max Miller of his day. Who’s Max Miller? Go ask your mum.
  2. Physical interaction – the low stage of the Globe plus the standing section of the audience directly in front of the stage, allows the actors easy access to the audience. They can go into the audience, they can make an entrance through the audience, they can become part of the audience and they can bring audience members onto the stage.
  3. Provoke a response from the audience – humour is the easiest way to provoke a response from the audience – you say something funny and the audience laugh – but there are other techniques that the actors use.
    • Spoof sympathy – you’ve seen this a thousand times. The actor comes to the front of the stage, looks at the audience and says something like… " I’m all alone, nobody loves me." and then pretends to cry. The audience know it’s a spoof but they still join in and say… Awwwww. That’s the response the actor is looking for.
    • Stun the audience into silence – sometimes the loudest response of all… can be silence. There are moments of great sadness in Shakespeare’s plays and at those moments, you can hear a pin drop.
  4. Adlib responses to the audience – Elizabethan audiences showed no reverence for the Bard’s work. They shouted out whenever they felt like it. Audiences at the Globe are more subdued but they still shout out comments… and how they love it when the actor comes back with a reply. In the production I saw several of the actors came out of character and entered into the banter with the audience… went down an absolute storm.

"Books have been written about the power of theatre, but they all boil down to one thing: entertainment. Theatre engages our senses, our sensibilities. It makes us aware of the subtleties and ironies of life."
Tony Carlson from his book The How of Wow

That’s how the actors create rapport… now it’s your turn.

How you can add Rapport to your Speeches and Presentations


So what can you learn from Shakespeare? What can you steal to help you create rapport with your audience? Surprisingly… rather a lot. Here are a few techniques to get you started.

  1. Eye contact – interaction with the audience starts with eye contact. The majority of the time you should be looking at the audience, not down at your notes.For a few pointers on maintaining good eye contact, take a look at my post – Eye Contact in Public Speaking.
  2. Watch your I / You ratio – this is an idea from Patricia Fripp, she explains that to make sure that the audience feel included in your speech make sure that you use the word You more than you use the word I.
  3. Humour – one of the easiest ways to build a bridge to your audience and get feedback. What’s the feedback? Laughter… or lack of it in my case. Don’t forget that humour in speeches is not about telling jokes it’s about making the points you want to make but in a humourous way. For ideas on adding humour to your speeches and presentations check out my post – Public speaking humour.
  4. Ask a question – easy to get a response from the audience if you ask them a question. Two types of questions you can use are:
    • Real question – this is a question where you expect a reply, such as:
      "Has anybody bought a ticket for the 2012 Olympics?"
    • Rhetorical question – this is a question where you don’t expect a reply, such as.
      "Is the world such a bad place?"

    Whatever type of question you ask…… make sure that you pause, look at the audience, wait for the response and if appropriate, give a reply.

  5. Provoke a response from the audience – you can use the Spoof Sympathy or Stun the audience into silence as the actors do or try the methods below:
    • Ask them to do something.
      "Put your hand up if you drove here tonight."
    • Ask them to think about something – this is the mental equivalent of asking them to do something.
      "Think about your first day at school. Were you happy? Were you sad? Did you cry for your mum?"
    • Pretend that you’ve forgotten something, hesitate and get the audience to shout out the answer.
      "That actress in Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica…….. " – if you scratch your head and pretend that you’ve forgotten the name, someone in the audience will shout out "Parker" and you can say "thank you sir / madam, I was having a senior moment."

    A great way to involve the audience…… provoke a responce.

  6. Adlib – you don’t have to stick rigidly to your script. If something goes wrong, if someone says something, you can use the opportunity to throw in a few adlibs and interact with the audience.

"A speech is not about facts and numbers; it’s about story, meaning. A memorable speech rests on the quality of the connection between the speaker and the audience. Use techniques of theatre – plot, character, suspense – to connect."
Tony Carlson from his book The How of Wow

Take another look at the quote above, especially the bit that says "A memorable speech rests on the quality of the connection between the speaker and the audience." and make sure that in your next speech or presentation… you make that connection.

You are taking a risk whenever you use Rapport


Once you start interacting with the audience… you can’t predict what’s going to happen. So in that sense you’re taking a risk. To help reduce that risk make sure that you prepare. If you ask a question…. what responses might come back, if anything goes wrong… what will you say. It always helps… if you can prepare those great saver lines and adlibs.

Add Rapport to your Speeches and Presentations

Take a look at your own speeches. Are they monologues or do you include the audience? Take another look at the various techniques for creating rapport, pick out two or three for your next speech and don’t forget to leave me a comment and let me know which work for you.

My thanks and gratitude to:

Francisco Rojas for Buckingham Palace / Guards photo on flickr
Kai Chan Vong for Tower Bridge photo on flickr
Graeme Weatherston for Millenium Bridge / St Pauls photo on free digital photos

Special thanks to the Globe Theatre for allowing me to use the top graphic "William Gaunt plays Worcester in Henry IV Part 1 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Copyright John Haynes 2010"
Particular thanks to Sian-Estelle Petty Communications Assistant at the Globe for her help, assistance and support.

A message from the Globe.
“Due to high box office demand Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has extended the 2010 Kings and Rogues season with an additional 8 performances of Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. The season will now close on 9 October.”

If you’re planning a visit to London treat yourself to a fantastic evening at the Globe. Visit the Globe Theatre booking office and make a booking.

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  1. It only takes me five minutes to begin to fall asleep when the speaker is not engaging enough”That’s a great summary of my whole post. Thanks for sharing.
    Price´s last great post ..Blackberry Curve 8520 Price- Specifications &amp FeaturesMy Profile

  2. Never been to the Globe. But I used to have one on my desk when I was in elementary school. LOL (couldn’t resist) 🙂

    I usually speak to audiences of less than 50 people, Keith, so it’s pretty easy to make connections with them.

    I have my audiences introduce themselves to me first and I never forget a name. So during a presentation, I interact with them on a “first name basis”. They love it!

    They oftentimes approach me afterward and ask me how I can remember everyone’s name. I have my ways, of course, but I never let that cat out of the bag. It’s one secret I keep to myself. 🙂

    Awesome post and topic!
    Melanie Kissell´s last great post ..3 Simple Keys to a Strategic Plan that Rocks!My Profile

  3. Hi Mel
    “I interact with them on a “first name basis”. They love it!”
    I bet they do you show off.
    So what’s your technique?

    Always grateful for your support and your brilliant comments.

    Thanks for coming over – how is your flu?
    Hugs across the pond.