Clad in a tan felt fedora hat and a black leather bolo tie, he bounded to the front of the class. He was short-ish, maybe 5′ 5″ tall, but he owned the front of the room immediately. I was shocked at first, intensely curious about who this man was and what he might say.
“Welcome to Intro to Anthropology!”, he hollered jovially.
I felt the corners of my lips turn up in a tiny smile. Now this was going to be an interesting class.
That was 24 years ago – my first year of college – but I still remember it vividly. I also remember way more than I would ever have dreamed about Charles Darwin, peyote and brachiating. (Incidentally, you might be surprised how often I've gotten to use that information, too.)
Why do I remember what my first anthropology professor taught me so well? Because he used so many captivation and engagement techniques in his teaching that I could not help but listen.
At the time, I didn't really think a lot about the choices he was making in his teaching. I just knew that he was one of the most fun and interesting teachers I had ever met – and the class session flew by every time.
Now, after spending the last twenty years studying what it takes to get and keep people's attention when communicating, I see what a genius he was. He had a gift for vivid descriptions (ones that create exciting pictures in your mind), he told stories that made you fall in love with neanderthals and apes you'd never meet, and he built connection with us college students in a way that felt natural and meaningful.
I can (and will) write full articles about each of those captivation and engagement techniques listed above. Today, though, I just want to talk with you about the last one – the power of connection for getting the attention of others.
Let's talk about three strategies my anthropology professor used – and you can use, too – for creating meaningful connection with people in the audience.
I'm a lot like you (but I get it that I'm not you)
He was at least 20 years older than most of us in class, but somehow that was never at the forefront of my mind when I was talking with and listening to my Anthropology professor. I felt like we had a lot in common, actually. He loved life, liked to have fun. He shared stories about when he was first in college and the mix of emotions he experienced. He didn't act like he was in college, but his stories and memories shared made me feel connected to him. I trusted him to give me information that I would enjoy because I had the sense (though I didn't know it at the time) that he knew how to “filter” and choose information just for me (for us college students).
This “I'm a lot like you” way of communicating makes listening easy and natural. We open up to the speaker when they communicate appropriately this way.
What about you: How can you choose stories and examples that show a direct connection between you and your audience?
I get where you are (but I won't pretend to know exactly how you feel)
While seeing how we were alike helped me listen and engage, it would not have worked if my professor acted like a college student. It was important that he not tell me about the wild party he went to over the weekend (even though I never once went to a wild party in college). When he told me about his challenges in college – or as a young adult overall – I listened keenly. I wanted to know how it worked out for him – what I could glean from his experience. He made analogies about oh, say, procreation… evolution and even early tribal life that showed me that he understood my own relationships, family dynamics and juggling of work and school.
His examples showed me that he “got it” about my experiences. The way her made unexpected connections between my experience and the material he was teaching kept me easily engaged.
What about you: What examples can you share with your audience that will clearly show that you get it about what they are likely experiencing?
I'm not perfect (but I am definitely good enough to be really helpful to you)
We talked a lot about well known leaders in the anthropology field – researchers and famous experts – in that college class. My professor was pretty self-deprecating and there were more than a few times when he talked about how much he didn't know about specific areas of anthropology. He had high confidence in his Native American history expertise but was less expert at the intricacies of evolution and recessive genes and the like. The important thing was that he didn't pretend to know everything. If he didn't know the answer to a question, he'd offer to find out – or, often, invite us to research for ourselves and report back.
This honesty and humanity made me trust him. I knew that if he gave me a direct answer, he was certain it was accurate. This kind of trust is so peaceful to the people in your audience. They want to know that they can open up to your information and use it with great confidence themselves.
What about you: How can you confidently express the edges of your expertise? Are you willing to commit to owning what you know and peacefully and confidently saying, “I don't know” (in whatever words are best for the circumstance) when you are outside of your expertise?
And a bonus one on this one: Where can you share a vulnerability in service of connection? Maybe a story that will help your audience really get it that you understand where they are because you, too, aren't perfect? (After all, human = not perfect.)
The fact is, if you don't have rapport – a warm connection – with your audience (whether that audience is live or virtual) you will have a very difficult time getting and keeping their attention. The way to establish that connection is to get to know who they are, understand their experience of life and work and learn what they need and want. Then, from the center of your genuine caring, be of service to them from your area of expertise.
That's exactly what my Intro to Anthropology professor did and his influence has stayed with me for 24 years – and, in fact, rippled out through lessons I share with my daughters even today.
Making meaningful connection isn't difficult but it can be hard to “fit in” in our overstimulated world now. That's why I am thrilled to be a contributor in a brilliant 30-Day Bloom Your Online Relationships Challenge, which invites each of us (I'll be doing the challenge, too!) to focus on deepening our relationships instead of growing “massive lists” as we are so often told we must do to survive in business. Given the list of leaders contributing their expertise and experience in this challenge, I just know we are all going to get some truly relationship deepening tips we will use for the rest of time. With Téa Godfrey of storybistro.com spearheading this challenge, we can all rest assured that the whole experience will be full of ease and richness.
I'd love to have you join me. You can join here: http://storybistro.com/bloom-audience-30-day-challenge/
Special thanks to Davidd on Flickr for the mysteriously framed fedora hat.