Mesmerize the Audience Before You Speak

I’m amazed at how creative speakers can be in developing rapport with an audience—especially before the speech begins.

Recently I was in an audience of 700 waiting for writer, Anne Lamott, to begin her speech about her new book, Stitches. Because of the open seating policy, we got there early to get good seats. About 20 minutes before the presentation began, I saw a small commotion near the front of the auditorium. I looked at this diminutive lady in jeans talking to someone. I looked more closely and recognized the speaker, Anne Lamott, signing her new book. She would reach down to the audience member, speak, and sign her book, and then she would move to the next seated individual who had one of her books. She did this until two or three minutes before her presentation began.

At that point she simply waited to the side of the stage to be introduced. There was no fanfare, no great build-up to this prolific author. The audience was hanging on to her first words. She had the audience captivated simply because she had shown in a very relaxed way her connection and concern for her audience by introducing herself to individual audience members and signing their books. By the time she began speaking, many felt a personal relationship with Anne.

I read of a similar approach concerning an interview with the University of Cincinnati football coach, Tommy Tuberville, a few days ago. Each week during the season, he has an appointment at a popular ribs restaurant for a WLW radio talk show host to spend an hour talking about the UC football team. What makes this significant to me is what he does beforehand. It is not your usual approach to a radio interview.

He doesn’t arrive five minutes before he goes on the air; he arrives an hour early to meet and greet all the faithful fans. By the time he is ready for the talk show interview, he has reinforced his connection with the live audience, which creates more of an electric atmosphere to the radio audience.

As a first year coach for the Bearcats, he has a winning season, and Nippert Stadium is nearly sold out each game. He is a coach who shows his allegiance to the fan base by engaging an audience in a very personal way.

In two entirely different arenas, one can see that the impact of what a speaker does before a speech can greatly affect what he or she actually says during the presentation. Remember to take the time in advance to connect with your audience.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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