Creating common ground with an audience is like clearing a pathway from their heart to yours.

By identifying and articulating shared experiences and goals, you build a path of trust so strong that they feel safe crossing to your side.

You develop credibility without coming across as arrogant. Even your magnificent qualifications should be revealed in a humble and selfless way that connects with them.

Focusing on commonalities bolsters credibility, so spend time uncovering similarities. Seek out shared experiences and goals that you can bring to the foreground. A presentation that creates common ground has the potential to unite a diverse group of people toward a common purpose—people who normally might never have unified because of their great diversity.

People set aside differences when they’re strongly connected to achieving a common goal.

If a presentation goes badly awry, it’s easy to blame the audience for misinterpretations and say, “That’s not what I meant. How could they be so dumb?” In the blame game, all ten fingers should be pointed at you, not the people “misinterpreting” your presentation. You chose the words and images to convey your idea; if it didn’t align with the audience’s experiences, you need to own up to the misunderstanding.

Nancy Duarte tells of a presentation failure in her book Resonate: I had one of those ‘why doesn’t the audience get this obvious idea’ moments when conveying our company vision in 2007. My employees are not blind; my communication was flawed. Having been through three significant economic downturns, it was easy to see the next one coming a mile away. I knew that the firm needed to make some immediate changes that would help us weather the storm. But to the team, everything seemed safe and stable. So when I delivered an urgent ‘danger is eminent’ message, it backfired. At the end of my dramatic presentation, my employees sat stunned, feeling like I was trying to manipulate them by telling them the sky was falling. What I thought was a presentation dripping with insight and urgency, my young staff—who had only known prosperity and stability—perceived as manipulative. My message and means of communication slowed progress to a crawl. A handful understood, but getting everyone on board proved almost insurmountable. It took an entire year to reframe the issues and build momentum. Even though a downturn was coming, the idea had no traction because I didn’t use symbols or experiences to which my audience could connect.

The audience chooses whether to connect to you or not. People will usually respond only if it’s in their best interest. Personal values will ultimately drive their behavior, so ideally you should identify and align with existing values.

How You Connect with Them

Shared Experiences

What from your past do 
 you have in common: memories, historical 
 events, interests?

Common Goals

Where are you headed
 in the future? What 
 types of outcomes are 
 mutually desired?

Qualifications

Why are you uniquely qualified to be their guide? What similar journey have you gone on with a positive outcome?

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