Pressure does funny things.
In everyday life when we're relaxed, we rarely think that hard about the mechanics of spoken communication.
We breathe without really thinking about it.
We swap stories... without really thinking about it.
We speak without a script...
Well, you get the idea.
Building rapport falls into the same category - when the pressure's on, what's usually natural and intuitive suddenly becomes... tricky. Even clunky.
You've probably seen, as I have, the awkward start to a presentation, the way-too-lengthy personal intro or perhaps the joke that fails. Ouch.
So, how do you build rapport - authentically, appropriately and safely - when speaking under pressure?
Answer: find common ground.
Yes, it's that simple.
Look for what you have in common with your listener... and then comment on it. Perfect icebreaker material may, literally, be staring you in the face.
Last week, I met with a prospective new client in the City of London. A serious firm in a serious location, within sight of St Paul's Cathedral.
Not only that but in the meeting room I was directed to, there was a framed, large-scale photo of St Paul's on the wall!
I thought to myself: "Well, there's no escaping St Paul's Cathedral in these offices..."
My opening line for the meeting as my two hosts entered?
"Lovely to meet - and..." [gesturing to framed photo] "Wow, there's no escaping St Paul's in your offices... what a location!"
Was it intended to trigger a laugh? Of course not.
Did it help break the ice? Well, absolutely. It was certainly more interesting than my giving a 1 minute introduction!
(And by the way, it was a sincere compliment on my part - I'm not one for duplicity.)
Naturally, there was an appreciation of the compliment, a brief chat about the photographer and a suggestion from their side that they may want to get a few more shots taken.
Ice broken. Lovely.
You may have noticed stand-up comedians often reference the location in which they're doing their gig. (Just ask Michael McIntyre for "his favourite city of them all"!)
Why? Because it's the ONE thing they can guarantee they have in common with an audience of strangers.
Next time you're entering a meeting - or presenting or pitching - keep your eyes peeled.
What common ground do you have available to you?
It beats any stale, wordy personal introduction...
Finalist, 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking