10 ways to build rapport when presenting

Have you ever sat in a presentation nodding along to the presenter, feeling as though they are talking directly to you?

You hang onto their every word and feel like this could be the beginning of a great professional relationship, maybe even friendship?

Some presenters are naturals when it comes to building rapport with their audience.  They have a natural presence, a really good energy that the audience picks up on and reacts positively to.

Others may struggle in this area.

The good news is that anyone can build rapport when presenting, it just takes a bit of time.  We share below our top 10 tips to help you build rapport the next time you give a presentation.


Firstly, what exactly is rapport?

Wikipedia states that:

Rapport is a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are “in sync” with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.

Tony Robbins sums it up in the following quote:

“Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him feel that you understand him, that you have a strong common bond.”

So, how do you do this in a presentation in front of a group of people?

When you give a presentation you not only need to understand your audiences’ needs, but also value them.

You must understand what makes your audience tick, why they need to hear what you have to say, what their challenges or pain points are, and why you know how they feel.


Why is rapport important when giving a presentation or talk?

Essentially rapport creates trust between you and the audience.  It increases your likeability, therefore potentially increasing the audiences’ engagement, making it an enjoyable experience for everyone!

Building rapport helps you to connect with the audience at a human level – you are demonstrating that you understand them, that you are forming a common bond with them.


How to build rapport

1. Be yourself

Possibly the most important tip when presenting is to be yourself!  The audience will be able to tell straightaway whether you are pretending to take an interest in them or are genuinely trying to connect with them.


2. Research the audience

As with any presentation we always advise you to research your audience beforehand.  This helps build rapport as you can then speak to them in their terms.  It also demonstrates to them that you have done your homework, that you have taken the time and effort to get to know them and understand their needs.


3.  Talk and listen to people before your presentation begins

Engage with the audience before you give the presentation.  Mingle with them and engage in small talk as they are grabbing a quick cup of coffee before sitting down.  This will not only help you create more of a connection with them, but will also give you the opportunity to gauge the atmosphere and change your energy levels if needed.

Sometimes, you pick up invaluable information during the small talk that you can refer to during your presentation (without breaching confidence) – this really helps hugely to build the connection.


4. Remember to smile

Smiling genuinely at the audience will have them warming to you straightaway.  There is no need to smile continuously throughout your presentation – this can look a bit creepy and also rather fake!  Smiling at the beginning, the end and anywhere else that is appropriate is sufficient.

Added bonus to smiling – it is the cheapest way to improve your looks and make you feel happier.


5. Include the audience, if appropriate

Try to make the audience feel as though they are part of the presentation.  Remember your “I to you” ratio.  You should say the word “you” at least as many times as you say the word “I”.  It makes the audience feel more a part of what you are saying.

Get them involved by asking questions, these can be rhetorical or ones that enable them to contribute.  Consider using analogies – if you use ones that resonate with them, they can be a brilliant way to create a more meaningful connection.


6.  Dress appropriately

How you dress will impact on building a rapport with the audience.  First impressions count and by researching your audience you should have a good idea of what “appropriate” is for the occasion.

Sometimes this can be a struggle to get the balance between what is appropriate for your industry and what is appropriate for the audience – who may be in an entirely different industry.

For example, if you are in the world of IT, you may be used to wearing jeans (maybe even ripped ones!) and a t-shirt.  However, if you are presenting to those in the legal world, where a full suit and tie might be more appropriate – what do you do?   We would suggest a crisp white shirt, a pair of smart denims and maybe a tailored or sports jacket.

We would suggest overdressing rather than underdressing (a jacket or tie can quickly be removed), and don’t forget about clean shoes ….


7.  Talk to them not PowerPoint

Sounds obvious right?  You would be surprised at how many presenters stand to the side of the screen looking at the slides whilst talking!  That is not the way to build rapport!  Remember that people have come to hear and see you, not your slides!


8.  Avoid TLAs (three letter acronyms)

It is tempting to use abbreviations and acronyms when giving a presentation, this can be seen as laziness on your behalf.

Worse than this, it could be a case that the audience do not understand your acronym or have a different meaning for it.  For example, if I use the two lettered acronym EP – I am relating to Executive Presence.  However, to someone else it could mean European Parliament, or for festival lovers it could mean Electric Picnic!  So avoid acronyms at all costs if you want to maintain rapport with your audience.


9.  Avoid using offensive humour or language

This tip is self-explanatory! What you might think is an innocent joke could cause offense to members of your audience.  If you want to use humour as a way of building rapport use with caution and be aware of your audience.


10.  Start on time and finish on time (or even early!)

Your audience probably have other plans straight after your presentation – if you speak over your allowed time, you are being disrespectful to the audience and could annoy a few of them.


By following the tips above and taking a genuine interest in your audience, you will soon build a rapport with them, increasing their engagement and making strong connections.

If you would like to know more tips on building rapport and creating a connection with the audience, you might be interested in attending our 1-day Presentation Skills Masterclass. The above is just one of the topics we cover on the day.