The 5th non-negotiable rule of public speaking is to create an experience for your audience and let them feel like they are a part of your presentation. Creating an experience goes beyond audience participation to where they really feel like they are in your speech. On a live stage it is a lot easier to give that experience to your audience than on a virtual stage.

How to Create an Experience from the Live Stage

In my recent blog article about how to build rapport and overdeliver without overwhelming I touched on a few of my experience creating techniques like facilitating a hot seat. Let us take a deeper look. First, prepare a specific task or activity for the hot seat. This works best if there is a problem that needs solved that showcases your expertise. For example: design a business make-over, create a new image, or develop their professional story. Next, invite a volunteer from the audience to participate on the hot seat.

During my speaker workshops, I often invite individuals on the hot seat to help them create their elevator speech. I involve the entire audience along with this person. I go through the step-by-step process for developing a magnetic elevator speech and we all do it together. I ask the audience to give feedback in a supportive way. It feels as if everyone participates and is included in the experience because everyone has the opportunity to help the person on the hot seat. I instruct the audience to be encouraging without trying to coach. This prevents the feeling from the audience as to ganging up on the participant. Instead, I promote cheering, clapping, with a positive rah-rah. Throughout this process encourage your audience to give love and support to the hot seat volunteer.

Another way to give your audience a great experience is to let them experience each other. You can guide them to take action by saying, “Turn around to the person behind you and introduce yourself.” Or ask them to get into groups of 3 or 4 and take turns introducing themselves. There are many ways you can give your audience a personal experience and build community at the same time. It is up to you, the speaker, trainer, leader to give them that experience.

Here is how to effectively give that that experience. In the beginning of your talk, you build rapport as the speaker with your audience. Then you want the audience to build rapport with each other. That builds community. When the community comes together that makes them love you even more. That is the secret sauce of a successful event whether you are either putting on the event or you are a speaker for an event. Another way I get the group to build community is to have everyone run around and take selfies with others in the room for 1 minute. What happens when they move around the room, they build rapport with more than the three or four people that are sitting close by. Think of a way that you can engage your entire audience so that they can build rapport in your live events.

How to Create Audience Experiences in the Virtual World

In the virtual world, you can also create an experience. Have someone volunteer to be in the hot seat. Since you cannot have them audience verbally cheer, you can have them be involved through the chat to cheer them on. They can also offer reactions with thumbs up, clapping hands and hearts. This experience is not as easy but can still be done.

Then to build that community in the virtual world, you can use breakout rooms. Unfortunately, that is not the whole room building community, but we do get the opportunity to have them create smaller communities. You can have small breakout rooms or larger ones with 10 people. The more people you have in the breakout room, however, the less community rapport you will have in there. Before sending them into breakout rooms, be sure to give specific instructions for a rapport building process. For example, one option I use is to have them each create a 1-minute speech (that is not a pitch, elevator speech or commercial). Rather, they create little 1-minute speeches with criteria I give them to build rapport. Then when they are back in the main room, I will pick 10 out of say 60 people in the community who are willing to share their 1-minute little speech. And I have the audience comment (but not coach) with their encouragement in the chat box. This builds rapport because everyone is focused on the person giving the speech since they know they need to comment or say something. This naturally makes them pay attention.

Another way to bring the rapport built in the smaller breakouts back to the whole community is to have a designated individual of each breakout room do a 30 second share of who was in the room and what they shared about.

Keys to Successful Breakout Rooms

Give clear instructions. Be sure to write them in the chat so everyone can see them in the breakout room. Remember the smaller number of people in a breakout the greater the rapport they will feel. Ask them to choose a spokesperson and leader for their breakout room to share in the larger community. To help them choose, ask them to find out whoever has known you (the speaker) the longest. Instruct them to take the first 2 minutes to figure out who the spokesperson is. This also creates an icebreaker conversation, connection, and rapport before they talk about themselves. After the 2 minutes where they selected the spokesperson then they go right into the exercise where they each get 1 minute. You need to tell them how to manage the time. Do not just tell them they have 5 minutes to choose the leader and go through the question/exercise. For example, I will let them know, “You’re going to have two minutes to have that little discussion and figure out who’s going to be the leader. So, I am going to give you that time. Do not worry. And then after that, you will take minute and a half or two minutes each for the exercise, and then a minute to wrap it up.”

If you are speaking or teaching on the virtual stage, breakout rooms are a great way to give your audience a group community experience. Just be crystal clear on what the activity is and what you want them to accomplish in the breakout rooms.

To set up a breakout room exercise, I use an acronym. I have it written largely on a sheet of paper and use my document camera, so it is clearly seen on their screen. For example, I say, “In your breakout rooms, you’re going to look for the gifts in each other by using an acronym GIFTS. This stands for your Goals, Interests, Family, Talents, and Services you offer.

I did a speech on St. Patrick’s Day and I used the acronym GOLD. I shared that this breakout time is an opportunity to find your pot of GOLD.

G = Gifts, what gifts do you have?
O = Opportunities, what opportunities do you have for collaboration with others?
L = Love, what or who do you love?
D = Do, what do you do?

This acronym is designed to talk about what they do last. This avoids participants from simply giving a sales pitch and instead it allows them to build rapport first and share personal information about themselves.
FANS is another acronym I use during networking meetings:

F = Family
A = Accomplishments
N = Networks
S = Service

In a nutshell, there are 3 types of audience experiences you need to create. First you, as the speaker, need to create community with your audience. Next, guide your audience to build community with each other. Last, create a way that your entire audience can build community with the entire community. For example, at my live events I invite the audience to hurriedly take as many selfies as they can with other participants in a 2-minute time period. This way they meet more people fast. It works to build community because it gives everyone permission and encourages them to talk to strangers.

Building community in the virtual environment is not as easy and yet with a little creativity can be done. As mentioned earlier this can be accomplished by using well-orchestrated hot seats, panels, and breakout rooms.

For more information on Rule #5 of the 7 Non-negotiable Rules of Public Speaking, watch this short video on YouTube: