Strategy

Connect or you’re dead: Killer communication tips

Yamini Naidu /

“It’s all about connecting with your audience, nothing else matters, if you don’t connect you are dead,” says John Polson, the founder of the immensely successful Tropfest short film festival.

This possibly applies to everything we do in business: presenting, communicating, selling, customer service and leading.

We probably all get connecting intuitively. Like when we say, “I just connected with him”, but what does that actually mean? Can connecting be broken down into actual repeatable behaviours that you can use every time to connect with your customers, a stakeholder, your audience?  Well I’m going to try, but this is by no means a complete list.

The first thing that matters in building a connection is ensuring people simply like you.

Everyone has heard that the first 30 seconds of meeting someone counts; that first impressions matter. This is when what you say or do sets the tone for people to like you – or not. Don’t dismiss that, people like to do business with people they like.

Recently I had the privilege of hearing Mark Stephenson speak. When he was introduced, the MC did a short version of his bio. Mark is, among other things, an expert in both prime number cryptography and computer aided design. The intro went on for a couple of minutes and was packed with all his achievements, and, to state it mildly, Mark is a super high achiever. The audience was thinking, “Wow, I don’t think we could connect with him. He’s up there in the stratosphere… I hope I can even understand what he’s going to say”.

Mark stood up to speak and the first thing he said was, “You probably think I’m an arse now!” There was a brief second of silence before the whole auditorium exploded with laughter. People were thinking, “We like this guy!”

Now you don’t have to swear, but if you can tell people who you really are in the first moment that helps them know you and like you.

What happens in the next 30 seconds? Can you launch into your messages yet? Absolutely not, it’s too early and you are still building that connection. In the next 30 seconds, connecting is about being relatable and your audience, whether it’s a customer or a room full of people, they need to feel “you get them”.

Did you see the first episode of Junior Master Chef last year? All eyes were on Anna Gare, the new judge. When Anna was introduced to her young audience, all under 12, she said, “I started cooking when I was your age and I could barely see over the counter”. Her audience laughed and immediately connected with her; she was relating to them and showing them she understood what it felt like cooking as a child.

Connecting is also about seeing your interaction as a value exchange. You might be giving your audience information, or a cool new tool, but they are giving you their time and attention. Your audience needs to feel they are getting something of value from you, something they can take away instead of just being sold to.

This explains why there is so much free high value content on the internet. The people who give away this content know that by doing that they are setting in motion a high value exchange. You initially engage with them, through the high value content (whether it’s downloading a free eBook, or watching a video) – it’s almost like a taste test, and if you like what you see you will probably buy what they are selling. They sold to you by connecting with you first through a value exchange.

These are some of the building blocks of connecting with other people. Of course, the acid test of connecting is whether they would like to see you again? I know I would love to see Mark Stephenson present again and again.

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