18 Mar Building rapport so people want to know more – the secret sauce to grabbing your audience’s attention

(an excerpt from How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work (Wiley).

kids-image-1In 2006 I developed a model to help you feel more engaging, persuasive and confident. This model will help you shift your audience from their current to your desired state. I call it the ‘13 Steps to Exceptional Presentation Design’.

My 13 Steps combine all of the key elements of an influential presentation (from start to finish) and help you know exactly what to say with precision, accuracy and linguistic mastery.

Here’s the low down:

Great presenters follow a formula – if you don’t know the formula you’re missing out on a powerful result from your written and spoken communication.

Specifically, my 13 Steps will help you:

  • Build deep rapport with your audience.
  • Stimulate your audience to listen actively.
  • Manage audience conflict or objections to your content.
  • Influence your audience to think, feel and do what you have planned.
  • Ensure that you answer the questions audience members are asking (both unspoken and spoken) regardless of their personality.
  • Feel confident that you have prepared thoroughly for any audience.


Here are the 13 Steps for you briefly:

  1. Build rapport with your audience.
  2. Assert your perspective.
  3. Motivate your audience to pay attention.
  4. Proactively manage audience objections.
  5. Control and relax your audience.
  6. Deliver the facts, figures and data.
  7. Explain the steps for implementing your ideas.
  8. Provide any other information.
  9. Summarise your three key points.
  10. Call your audience to action.
  11. Manage questions and answers.
  12. Highlight negative and positive consequences.
  13. Close with a sizzle!

Now let’s go through just step 1 of the 13 steps in more detail. You might like to think of a presentation you have coming up that you could use as a working example as we go through the various language patterns.


If you want to know more about the other 13 steps then please grab yourself a copy of my best selling book, How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work (Wiley).


Step 1: Build rapport with your audience


Michelle says …. “The purpose of your presentation opening is to achieve 100 per cent inclusion. That means every single person in your entire audience is in agreement with you from your first word!”


Audiences are used to dreadful, clumsy and unsophisticated openings to meetings and presentations. That’s why it is so refreshing for an audience when you deliver your opening with confidence and charisma. But how do you do that?

Well, exceptional presenters don’t launch straight into their presentation and they don’t even introduce themselves first. They recognise the need to build rapport with their audience as a priority.


What is rapport?

Rapport is your connection or relationship with your audience. You may have noticed that it is easiest to build rapport with people who are just like you. That’s why you look like your friends! And you may also be painfully aware that it is often difficult to build rapport with people you don’t like or people who are not like you.

In the opening statements of your presentation, the thing to remember is that you don’t only present to people who are exactly like you! In fact, you will commonly present to people who are nothing like you. So while you will naturally build rapport with audience members who are like you, what are you going to do about all those other people?

When you begin your presentation your aim should be to achieve 100 per cent inclusion. That means you are trying to achieve 100 per cent success rate at getting your audience to agree to what you have to say and do what you want them to do. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?


How to build rapport when you open your presentation


Michelle says .… “Use inclusive statements that build rapport with your audience to begin your presentation.”


In order to achieve a high level of inclusion from the outset of your presentation, the best way to begin is to use what I refer to as inclusive statements.

Inclusive statements are statements that your audience members will understand, relate to and agree with. There are two types of inclusive statements: universals and truisms.


Universals are statements that everyone will understand and relate to. For example:

  • ‘Many people would like to be more successful.’
  • ‘Most of us would like to have more money to spend on things we enjoy.’
  • ‘Many of us would like to be loved in our lives.’
  • On the other hand, Truisms are statements that are true just for the particular audience that you are presenting to at the time, in this particular forum. For example, if I were speaking to a group of entrepreneurs in a motivational seminar I might say:
  • ‘Many of you are good at setting and achieving your goals.’ ‘While you are already successful in your current endeavours, many of you are here today because you are searching for the key that will inspire and empower you to further greatness.’
  • ‘Many of you are excited about the opportunity to unlock your full potential.’


In other words, a universal is common to all people across all industries and environments. A truism is just true for the people you are presenting to at the time, and therefore is more audience-focused. For that reason, truisms are more likely to be industry, profession or organisation-specific.


Why you need to deliver inclusive statements

As you can see from the examples above, inclusive statements can be used very effectively to show empathy for audience members and their situation. These statements build rapport with your audience because they reflect your audience’s attitudes back to them. Every time you make a statement that your audience members can relate to, they nod to themselves and think, ‘Yes, this person understands what it’s like to be me’. This is what we call rapport.


“People who like each other tend to be like each other.” Anthony Robbins (self help author and motivational speaker)


Making sure that audience members don’t disagree with your inclusive statements

There are a few clever little words that you can add to your inclusive statements to ensure that the people with a tendency to be the devil’s advocate cannot disagree easily with your statements. They are words such as most, some, several, various, many, few, others, or not. Indeed, there are many other similar words that will achieve the same outcome for you.

Let me give you an example. If I said to my audience, ‘You’ve all seen an excellent movie in the last week’, it is likely that some people could disagree with the statement. If you disagree with my statement, then I haven’t been successful (yet) in gaining your agreement for anything that I have said so far.

If, on the other hand, I said, ‘Whether you’ve seen an excellent movie in the past fortnight or not##…##’ or ‘Many of you will have seen an excellent movie in the last week’, or even ‘Several of you have seen an excellent movie in the last week’, then I would create or maintain the 100 per cent inclusion that I desire.

Here’s another example. If I said, ‘You’ll all agree with the need for a carbon tax’, you would be able to disagree with me because the use of the absolute ‘all’, which makes this statement exclusive, not 100 per cent inclusive. Now, what about this as an alternative: ‘Regardless of whether you agree with the need for a carbon tax, you will agree that we should consider carefully the long-term impact of climate change on Australia.’


Writing the best inclusive statements for your presentation

It is certainly very important that you write the best possible inclusive statements to begin your presentation.


Michelle says …. “It’s critical you are completely audience focused when writing your opening.”


I have observed people using this technique incorrectly, and they end up demonstrating that they have spent little time thinking about the needs of their audience. Perhaps you know what I mean?

The most obvious example I can think of is when corporate trainers welcome their participants back after a morning tea break and make a comment about the morning tea as their opening statement for the next training subject, ‘weren’t they lovely fluffy scones everyone?’. While it is actually a truism (because people did see or even eat those fluffy scones), this kind of statement can be perceived as a bit superficial, the kind of statement that someone makes when they can’t think of anything else to say. It would be more effective to talk with participants in the break and then open with a statement at the start of the next training subject that relates to the content the audience is about to learn. For example, ‘I had some good conversations with some of you in the break and I now understand that some of you would like to spend more time discussing examples of inclusive statements.’


What does your audience already know to be true?

Make sure you get right into your audience’s shoes and come up with the best, most insightful and inclusive opening statements that you can, so that you maximise your rapport with them. When you are writing your inclusive statements, it’s a good idea to ask yourself: ‘What does my audience know to be true?’ Once you have a few answers, make sure that they all link to your subject, and flow naturally and seamlessly from one statement to the next. Can you spot the three inclusive statements in each of the following examples?


Example 1

If I was going to present to a group of financial planners I might say:

‘You would be well aware of the turbulence in the financial markets at present. Some of you may have found that client concerns have increased markedly following the recent performance of the International share market and the subsequent negative media coverage. Many of you would be speaking with clients who want to withdraw their funds from share-based investments.’


Example 2

If I was presenting to a group of customer service representatives, I would reflect what they know to be true:

‘Many of us have been on the receiving end of poor customer service, and we know that it often means we won’t go back to that service provider if we can help it. Many of us would expect that the customer service division (of Company X) strives to provide excellent service.’

Can you see how this works?


How many inclusive statements should you have?

The number of inclusive statements you should deliver depends on the level of rapport you have with your audience. If you know your audience well or you are in the same profession or organisation as your audience members, then you will probably need fewer inclusive statements than if you are an outsider. Further, if you have the goal of strongly influencing your audience you will need to work harder at building rapport and this means you will need more inclusive statements.

I have a simple formula for you to follow (see table 5.1).

Table 5.1: formula for building rapport with your audience

If rapport is non-existent – You need at least three inclusive statements
If rapport is okay – You need at least two inclusive statements
Even if rapport is excellent – You need at least one inclusive statement

In other words, the number of inclusive statements you need is directly related to your existing level of rapport.



  1. Write down your inclusive statements for an upcoming presentation.
  2. Rehearse how you will say them a few times so they sound as natural, authentic and as conversational as possible.


Step 2: Assert your perspective using a leading statement


“Asking is the beginning of receiving. Make sure you don’t go to the ocean with a teaspoon. At least take a bucket so the kids won’t laugh at you.” Jim Rohn, .


After building rapport with your audience in the opening statements by using inclusive statements that reflect what they already know to be true, you are in the perfect position to introduce your key statement, idea, view, opinion, proposal or argument, which by definition will be more contentious. This key statement is called a leading statement.

The defining characteristics of a leading statement are: • It is your key message and the thing you really want your audience to believe • It is contentious nature. Meaning the audience may well disagree with you. • It must be reasonable. There’s no point thinking up a leading statement that your audience will never agree to because it’s so contentious it’s ridiculous. Make sure your leading statement is something the audience could eventually (possibly after some determined negotiating) agree to.


Using your leading statement with your inclusive statements to create a powerful opening. Imagine you are walking in your neighbourhood.

As you are walking along, you see your friend jogging up ahead. Let’s say for the purpose of this example that you want to catch up with your friend. What would you have to do? Yes, that’s right, you’d have to start jogging towards them wouldn’t you? But let’s just say that you don’t like jogging much! After jogging with them for a while, if you did slow down and walk. What do you think your friend would be most likely to do? Yes, I think so too: they would probably slow down and walk with you. This is what we call pacing and leading. Pacing is when you jog with your friend, at their speed or pace. It’s when you are as like them as possible. In the context of your presentation it’s where you match and mirror their voice, body language, eye contact and dress. And it’s when you deliver your inclusive statements that reflect what they already know to be true. Leading is when you slowed down and your friend changed to your pace. In the context of your presentation, leading is where you deliver your leading statement, or your key message that you must have your audience believe. In other words, when it comes to the opening of your presentation you pace your audience’s attitudes through the use of inclusive statements and then you lead the audience by stating the thing you want them to believe (your leading statement).


Michelle says …. “You don’t have permission to lead your audience until you have first paced them.”


How to pace and lead in the opening of your presentation.

The way that you pace and lead in the opening of your presentation is you first say some inclusive statements that reflect to your audience what they already know to be true. These inclusive statements must link together, make sense one after the other, and should lead the audience to believe your leading statement. Once you have said your inclusive statements and you have built some strong rapport, you then say your leading statement.


Some examples of combining inclusive statements with a leading statement

Here is an example for you.

‘Many of us have been on the receiving end of poor customer service, and we know that it often means we won’t go back to that service provider if we can help it. Many of us would expect that the customer division of Company X strives to provide excellent service. Customer Care at Company X is committed to exceeding our customers’ expectations in a variety of ways, and as a result we have as little as 10 per cent customer churn each year.’

You can see in this example that the three inclusive statements make it easier to accept the leading statement about commitment and customer churn rates. Without the inclusive statements before the leading statement, as speaker you could appear too direct or confrontational. You don’t have permission to lead or influence your audience until you have built rapport using inclusive statements.


That sounds manipulative. Is that okay?

You are quite right: pacing and leading is the oldest influence technique around. And have you ever stopped to think that you cannot not influence? It’s true isn’t it? We are constantly influencing others, sometimes knowingly, other times unknowingly. I suggest, when it comes to presenting, that you would be better to influence others with care and concern and attention to your audience’s needs in a premeditated way, and with the utmost care for your audience members, than try not to influence them and accidentally do something unethical to the audience like suggesting something inappropriate or offending the audience in some way. Negotiators use pacing and leading all the time. In fact, you can probably see that the need to build rapport by pacing and leading the audience to your way of thinking doesn’t just exist at the start of a presentation. Clever communicators pace and lead all the time, in the opening, middle and close of a conversation, in order to influence the other party. Remember that you don’t have permission to lead an audience unless you have first paced them. In other words you can’t ask for anything unless you have established rapport. (Well, you can ask but without rapport they’ll probably say ‘no’ to you!) It’s my experience that you can get anything you want if you can get your head around how to use this fabulous communication technique called pacing and leading.


What will happen if you don’t pace and lead in your opening?

Pacing and leading is a most exciting technique! You can see that you can achieve anything you want in your life based on your ability to pace and lead! Without this technique, you will struggle to build strong rapport and you won’t maximise your ability to lead your audience to agree with your leading statement or key message. I recommend it as a strategy for opening your presentations.



  1. Go to the presentation you are working on. Ensure that your inclusive statements from Step 1 of the 13 Steps link powerfully to your leading statement at Step 2 of the 13 Steps.
  2. Check that your inclusive statements in Step 1 and your leading statement in Step 2 are a powerful opening to your presentation.
  3. Does your combination of Steps 1 and 2 build strong rapport with your audience?

More information?

For more information on how to present with confidence, clarity and influence please read How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work (Wiley). Or consider attending Michelle’s public 2-day Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass.


Who is Michelle Bowden?

Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), Founder of Speakers’ Club, co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best selling internationally published author (Wiley), 8 x nominee for the prestigious Educator Award for Excellence, editor of How to Present magazine, producer of Michelle Bowden TV, and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. Sign up for Michelle’s FREE How to Present magazine TODAY www.michellebowden.com.au

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