The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Presenters

By Alan Carroll

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In the past several columns I have discussed the art of listening, which is mastering the inflow of communication. Now, I will shift to the art of delivering your communication, which is mastering outflow. There are seven characteristics of a highly effective presenter and I will use the acronym RAPSORE to help you remember each of these characteristics.

The first letter “R” stands for rapport. A definition of rapport is a harmonious, empathetic, or sympathetic relation or connection to another self … an accord or affinity. In other words, a close relationship in which people understand each other’s feelings, ideas and communicate well.

As I pointed out earlier the purpose of the mind is survival and the survival of whatever the mind considers itself to be. If you Google the top fears human beings have you will discover that the No.1 fear is public speaking or, using IT terminology, speaking in the "public domain." When you speak in the public domain you are making yourself open, visible and vulnerable to others. You are putting yourself on display to be judged, evaluated and assessed by the audience. If you say to your mind that we are going to play a game in which you get to be open, visible and vulnerable the mind will respond by saying, “No way!"

Public speaking is an open, visible and vulnerable game. Because of this, the vast majority of human beings spend their entire life just sitting in their chair. They don’t have the courage to stand up in front of the audience and confront their fear of annihilation.

However, if you do stand up in front of the audience, how will the mind, which is concerned about survival, protect itself from exposure in the public domain? It protects itself by creating a psychological defense or, in IT terms, a firewall. Building rapport is essential for effective communication because rapport disables the firewalls and allows for maximum throughput of your communication.

This will increase your effectiveness.

Tools & techniques

So what specific techniques can you use to build rapport? One of the roles and responsibilities a speaker plays in managing the conversation from the front of the room is being a host or hostess. By treating the audience as guests building rapport becomes the natural thing to do.

There is another rapport building formula which works just like magic: Imagine each person’s firewall is made up of bricks and every time a person communicates, it removes a brick from their firewall. Every time a brick is removed it opens up a hole through their firewall and therefore, you have greater access to the private domain in the other person. The more bricks you remove the greater is your throughput.

As a master communicator you want to be in the brick pulling business. You start pulling bricks as soon as you walk through the door of the presentation. This is the unofficial connecting and gathering phase of the conversation. Do not wait for the official start of the conversation to build rapport.

Two simple techniques that are commonly used to build rapport are walking up to a person, shaking their hands and introducing yourself. By doing this two major bricks are removed from your firewall, the other person’s firewall and the group firewall. What do I mean by the group firewall?

Imagine each person’s firewall is composed of 25 bricks and say there are 10 people in the room. The total number of bricks in the group firewall would be 250. Every time a communication takes place in the space a brick is taken out of the group firewall. When this occurs the flow of energy and communication increases and the space becomes lighter. What do I mean by the space becomes lighter?

The analogy to explain this would be a hot air balloon: There are two ways to make a hot air balloon go up. One is to increase the hot air and secondly, drop ballast. Every time you remove a brick it reduces the ballast in the gondola and the space gets lighter. You want the space to be as light as possible because it promotes the free flow of communication, openness, humor and creativity.

In the above connecting and gathering scenario the first brick removed is in the exchange of names and the second brick is through physical touch. A person’s name is very important and if you can remember a person’s name it is an excellent rapport building skill. One method you can use to remember a person’s name during the introduction is to repeat the person’s three times.

For example, “Hello, my name is Richard,” you say. “Hi Richard, my name is Bill, says Bill." You say, “Bill, what do you do for the XYZ data storage company”? “Are you in sales, Bill?" "Have you been with them long?", etc. You get the idea. By repeating the name three times in the first two are three sentences it will be enough to retain it in your short-term memory.

Shaking hands, e.g., physical touch, is a form of non-verbal communication that creates, among other things, a feeling of safety. Many cultures have a physical social dance they do when meeting each other. For example, in the U.S. shaking hands is common. In Europe kissing on the cheek and I have even seen men in Saudi Arabia greet each other by touching noses. A psychological reason for all this physical touching is that it alleviates fear and reduces the supposed threat from the other person.

The shaking of the hand communicates that you are not holding a weapon and therefore, not dangerous. In training presenters I have always encourage them to shake hands and meet as many people as possible in the room. I suggested that they especially want to meet people they don’t know because any feared attack will usually come from the person with whom you have the least rapport.

Before I conclude, I want to share with you one more technique that builds intimacy and rapport. I refer to this as the "sharing of the self."

Often in watching people communicate they focus on dumping data into the space between them, which is very impersonal. I believe that your stories and experiences about the data are more interesting to the audience then the data itself. Why? Because sharing personal stories and experience establishes your credibility, reveals your humanness , lowers the firewalls, promotes participation and is a great way to hold the attention of the audience.

So, in conclusion, a key element to mastering the outflow of your communication is to reduce the psychological firewalls in the space. You dismantle firewalls by building rapport. You build rapport by being a host or hostess and getting the audience to communicate. That completes the letter ‘R’ and next time I will share with you the letter ‘A’. Thank you and the best of luck in all your communications.

Alan Carroll, author of The Broadband Connection: The Art of Delivering a Winning IT Presentation and the founder of Alan Carroll & Associates, has been a successful public speaker, sales trainer and corporate consultant since 1983. Clients include: Cisco Systems, Synoptics Communications, Symantec Corporation, Digital Equipment Corporation, Unocal Corporation, Covey Leadership Center, BP Chemical, Peak Technologies, Vantive Corporation, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, HP, Symbol Technologies, etc.