How to make a personal connection in presentations
Summary: Tips on connecting personally with a presentation audience, including useful phrases for making a personal connection with attendees.
In these days when we’ve all got used to seeing presentations on our screens and/ or in the comfort of our own homes, it takes a lot to make it worthwhile to actually attend a presentation. It is therefore vital that the presenter makes the two experiences different by showing awareness of the face-to-face audience, not presenting as if the audience is just a video camera. In addition, it is probably the presenter’s ability to make a personal connection to the audience that explains why people still learn more from face-to-face presentations, as this is the one thing you can’t do with someone watching your presentation on YouTube later. This article gives tips and phrases for making the audience feel personally connected to the presenter. For over 300 pages of materials practising this and all the other parts of presentations, see https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/teaching-presentation-skills/
Making a personal connection straightaway
There are several points in a presentation at which the presenter can show the audience that they are talking to them like a group of individuals. The first and most important of those should usually go just after the greeting, in place of the “Long time no see!”, “We’ve emailed many times but it’s so nice to meet you face to face”, “How’s it going?” or “Have you changed your hair?” in a one-to-one conversation. Some presenters say similar phrases like “How are you?” in presentations. However, this kind of personal question does the opposite of forming a personal bond, as the audience can’t usually answer and so it shows that the presenter doesn’t really care what the answer is. The phrase “Thanks for coming” is just as bad, as it could quite easily be said in a recorded message, and the audience has almost certainly done more than just “coming” that they could be thanked for.
Tactics for good phrases for making a personal connection with the audience/ showing awareness of the audience at this stage include:
- Noticing something about the audience
- Sharing some knowledge about the audience
- Guessing something about the audience
- Mentioning things specific to the place and/ or time
- Mentioning previous presentations
- Thanking the audience for something very specific
Noticing something about the audience
Things you could notice and mention include:
- The number of people (who you know, who you don’t know, etc)
- Where they are sitting
- Their appearance/ What they are wearing
- What they have/ are holding
- The age and/ or gender split
- Their faces/ expressions
Example phrases with a mix of those tactics include:
- At least all the important people are here!
- I appreciate the effort it took to come here today when many others didn’t.
- I can see that some people have packed their bags already, but I think you’ll find my presentation worth five minutes of your time.
- I’m glad so many of you could make it.
- I’m impressed that so many people chose to come and listen to a presentation about…
- I’m impressed you got up so early – I nearly didn’t!
- I’m pleasantly surprised by how many people seem to be interested in this topic.
- It was really nice to meet (a few of/ some of/ many of/ most of/ all of) you earlier.
- It’s good to see so many people here today.
- It’s great to see so many new faces.
- It’s nice to see that some of the people who I begged to come actually came.
- It’s nice to see that some people who have attended my presentations before have actually come back for more.
- Some of you look a little sleepy this early in the morning, but/ so…
- Some people look like they are nervous about their own presentations later, but/ so…
- There was no need for everyone to sit at the back, as I’m not expecting audience participation! Not with this kind of topic!
- It’s nice to see so many familiar faces./ It’s really nice to see some familiar faces.
Sharing some knowledge about the audience
This is similar to the category above, as you need to notice who is in the audience before you can share your knowledge about them. Example phrases include:
- Some of you told me earlier that…
- I now know that a few of you…
- I really appreciate you all making the time to come here when I know you are especially busy.
- Thanks for coming at what I know is a very busy time.
- One of you told me earlier that…
Guessing something about the audience
Some of these phrases are similar to the ones above, including some use of the word “know”, but these are based more on your understanding of normal human feelings, and are more often about feelings specifically. Examples include:
- I know you are all thinking about your own presentations later, but…
- I know you are probably all thinking about the free drinks afterwards, but…
- I guess you are probably thinking about lunch, so…
- I guess you’re all a bit sleepy after lunch, but I think you’ll find this topic to be worth your while.
- I’m sure you’re all still in shock about…
- I think I can hear some stomachs rumbling, so I won’t take too long.
- I think lots of you still have hangovers, so…
- I think most of you haven’t been up for long, so we’ll start with a quick quiz to wake up your brains.
- You must be tired after such a long day, so…
Mentioning things specific to the place and/ or time
If you can’t think of something positive and not too personal to say about the audience, another good way of not sounding like a TED.com presentation from five years ago is to mention something in the presentation timing and/ or venue, with phrases such as:
- Horrible weather, isn’t it?
- I hope you are all coping okay with this sudden heat.
- I really appreciate you all coming here on such a cold day.
- I’m flattered that you would choose to spend time in this lecture theatre on such a nice sunny day.
- Thanks for coming to this presentation so early in the morning. I hope to make it worth your while.
- Thanks for braving the weather to come here today.
- I’m really impressed that you’re all here when it is snowing so heavily.
Mentioning previous presentations
The nicest of these kinds of phrases are those complimenting the previous presenter(s), especially if they are now in the audience, but you can also mention your own previous presentations if the people in this presentation (might) have also attended them.
- I’m sure like me you are really inspired after that last presentation.
- I’m sure the people who I asked difficult questions to won’t be shy about doing the same to me.
- It’ll be really hard to follow that great presentation.
- It’s impossible for me to live up to that last presentation, but…
- You now know absolutely everything about…, so I’m going to completely change the topic and speak about…
- You probably think you now know everything you need to about…, but…
- I know some of you have heard my presentation before, but…
- For those of you who have already heard me talk about this, I have put in some interesting statistics that add quite a lot to my arguments/ added some interesting extra examples/ added…
- I hope the visuals will make it stimulating even for people who heard me talk about this at the last conference.
- I’ve polished up this presentation since last time I gave it, so I hope it will be worthwhile even to those who sat through it last week.
Thanking the audience for something very specific
There is another whole article on this site specifically on thanking in presentations, most of which includes the tips above to make sure that the audience feels like you really feel grateful, including phrases like:
- Thanks for battling through the snow to get here today.
- Thanks for finding the time to come at what I know is an especially busy time for most of us.
- (E)special thanks to those who helped me prepare this presentation. I hope the improvements that I made make it still worth listening to.
Other ways of making a personal connection to the audience
Making a personal connection with a presentation hook
Along with the stage just after the greeting which is explained above, it is also possible to show that you are treating the audience as individual human beings in other parts of the presentation such as the hook. Hooking the audience phrases which are also good for forming a bond with the audience include:
- I guess that only one or two people here…
- I learnt this related joke/ quotation/ statistic/ fact from someone here today.
- I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you that this statistic is…
- I was as surprised as you will (probably) be to learn that…
- I’m sure that almost everyone here…
- I’m sure that, like me, you often…
- I’m sure you’ve all seen and most of you have shared an image like this on social media, but did you know that…?/ but if you look closely at this particular picture…
- If you…, then put your hand up now. Hmmmm. That’s different from any other audience I’ve had before!
- Please raise your hand if… Wow! Looking at the people here, I would not have expected that.
- This topic is especially important for the (…) people here today because…
- Why do people like us…?
Making a personal connection with personal information
Sharing personal information is obviously generally good making a personal connection, as shown in friendships and business relationships. However, in presentations you have the disadvantage that they can’t usually share personal information back, making bad versions more like the so-called friend who waffles on about their own personal problems without listening to anything about yours. Good sharing personal information phrases for this function therefore need to show a connection between the presenter and attendees, with phrases such as:
- Like most of you,…
- As most of you know,…
- I met most of you earlier, but for those who I missed…
- I think all of you know my face but perhaps not my name, so…
- There are a few people here who I haven’t introduced myself to, so…
- I already told some of you that…, but I don’t think any of you could guess that…
- I think some of you already know that…. but it might surprise you to hear that…
- I’m not as much of an expert on this topic as many of you, but what I can contribute is…
Making a personal connection in the body of the presentation
Although the start is the most important time to try to bond with the audience, you can help in the body of the presentation by following presentation tips like making eye contact, really giving people time to ask questions before you move on, and reacting to body language with further explanations etc. Suitable phrases include:
- Does anyone have any questions so far? No? Really? (Okay, well please feel free to interrupt later if anything does come to mind.) So, moving on to…
- I’m seeing some sceptical faces, but maybe I can convince you if I say that…
- I’m seeing what seem to be puzzled expressions, so perhaps I should explain further by saying…
Making a personal connecting in Q&A stages
Eye contact and really leaving enough time to check if they have questions are also important in the Q&A. You can also have the same effect by describing the person who can ask the next question (“Yes, the gentleman with the red jersey”, etc), checking if your answer was okay (“Is that what you wanted to know?”, “Is that a bit clearer now?”, etc), and maybe thanking them for their questions (“Thanks for asking me that. I’m sure many people have the same question”, “I’m glad you asked me that, because it leads me onto…”, etc).
Making a personal connection at the end of presentations
“Thanks for coming” is almost as bad at the end of presentations as it is at the start. Instead, it’s best if you reflect what went on in the presentation with phrases like:
- Thanks to those of you who pointed out…
- Thanks for all your great questions.
- Thank you for some really thought-provoking questions. I’ll have a lot to ponder on before my next presentation.
If not, you can always repeat or (preferably) rephrase your thanks at the start of the presentation, with phrases like:
- Thanks again for choosing to spend an hour of this sunny afternoon is this lecture theatre with me.
- Thanks again for giving me half an hour of your precious time to describe what I’m sure seemed a crazy idea the first time that you heard it.