Three Ways to Break the Ice with an Audience Before You Start to Speak
1. BE KNOWN TO THE AUDIENCE. If you are a Malcolm Gladwell the audience already knows you so the ice is effectively broken before you even open your mouth. Maybe you are not going to be as well known as he is, but you can certainly move in the right direction. Make sure that you are visible to the audience through social media, traditional media, promotional materials for the event and any other channel that you can find. Start months in advance if you can. At the very least you must have a clear online presence so that when people Google your name they see something reassuring. If the audience already knows who you are they do not spend the first five minutes wondering who you are and why they should listen to you, and this makes it much easier to connect.
2. TALK ABOUT THE TOPIC IN ADVANCE. You might think that a surprise would be most effective but this is not the way it works. Humans are naturally suspicious of new ideas and only accept them when they start to become familiar. Talk about the topic you plan to speak about in your blog, in your social media, in interviews, in other speaking opportunities and any other channel that you use. When you start talking about something that the audience has already heard about it is much more likely that they will pay attention, fast forwarding past the phase of suspicion and disbelief.
3. MEET AS MANY PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE AS YOU CAN. On the day of the speech be there at the venue early -- preferably the day before if you can. Meet as many people as you can in the lobby, mingling events, breaks and lunches. Introduce yourself, explain that you are a speaker and summarize in a few words your key message. Later when you start to talk these people know you already so you have a connection with them. They will also be more open to your ideas because they have met you, and they might start nodding as you speak, giving the others in the audience the social proof that they need to accept your words, too.
Once you have actually started to talk you have to fall back on the usual advice to start with something very compelling, a question or a story. But never try to tell jokes unless you are a professioal comedian. Presenting your message in an amusing way can be very effective but the telling of jokes is best left to professonals because it is much harder than you imagine.
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