I was listening to an interview today with Daniel Goleman, who, having previously introduced the concept of Emotional Intelligence, is now talking about Social Intelligence. His current work is looking at how the brain is wired to create connection. The sentence that drew me into the interview today was, “The first ingredient of rapport is full attention.”
“Where we put our attention, that’s where energy goes.” This is a statement that comes out of the Eastern contemplative traditions. In any speaking situation there are always multiple demands on our attention. Often it’s our own fear that commands the most attention. But, if we focus on our fear, we actually amplify it because that’s where all our energy goes.
Instead, what we need to attend to is what we want to say, to the technology we are using to deliver our talk, to the questions that are being asked, to the outcomes we want. Most importantly, though, where we really need to focus our attention is on making a connection with our audience.
When I ask participants in my groups to describe the qualities of people who they’ve experienced as having a great deal of speaking presence, one of the most frequent responses is that they felt as though they were the only person in the room and the speaker was speaking directly to them. This is what happens when the speaker gives their full and primary attention on the individuals in the audience. And, this is what then conveys the experience of rapport.
But how can we create that sense of attunement when there are so many competing demands for our attention?
We allow ourselves to relax into the connection by speaking directly to one person at a time using a soft available, receptive, inviting gaze. The gaze doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be deliberate. We have to give each person our full attention, however briefly. We have to really see the individuals we are speaking to, not the “crowd”. I often tell participants to think of having a cup of coffee with each person in the audience as they address their comments directly to one person at a time.
When we speak with this quality of full attention, we actually slow down our internal rhythms which then help us to relax. At the same time, our audience is drawn in and feels a sense of rapport, of connection, of being fully attuned with the speaker. These conditions, then, increase the probability that people will listen more fully, attend more fully, to what we are saying. And, paradoxically, this then makes it easy for us to concurrently pay attention to all the other things we must focus on as speakers.