In what I do, if I don’t know how to communicate with people I don’t already know, I won’t be very successful.
I have an occasion to speak to strangers frequently. Thankfully, our church attracts dozens of new visitors each week, I’m invited to speak other places often, and I encounter new people daily through this blog. I’m learning (it’s a continual process) that there are some specific ways I should and shouldn’t speak publicly to someone who doesn’t know me well. Most of these are true to any audience, but especially for an audience of visitors or strangers.
Here are 4 do’s and 4 dont’s when talking to people you’ve never met.
Don’t take them somewhere before they are ready to go – Let your audience warm up to you before you hit them with truths they may not even believe. You want to speak truth, but you want to earn the trust so they will actually listen. In a message, it’s important to open with a personal illustration or story that let’s your audience get to know you. On my blog, the “About” page is one of the most popular.
Don’t keep then longer than they want to stay – It’s awkward and sometimes uncomfortable to visit somewhere new or unknown. You’ll make it less awkward if you don’t keep them beyond their comfort level before they get to know you. Longer messages may work once people get to know you, but for visitors and first-timers, short and sweet usually makes them feel more comfortable.
Don’t tell them more than they want to know – Especially in a first encounter, people need the opportunity to get to know you before they really trust what you have to say. Answer their initial questions without telling them everything you know and hope for another encounter. In a message or in a blog, when the point is clear, don’t beat a dead horse. Learn to speak succinctly.
Don’t make them wonder what you’re talking about – Understand that people visiting may not be from your culture or have your background. They may not immediately understand your vocabulary. Use language they can understand, and when there aren’t other words, explain it to them enough so they will understand the terminology you are using. This is true for us when we do “church” things, like baby dedications, baptisms, or take communion. If it’s confusing to them, they are less likely to come back.
Do make them feel welcome – It’s important to put your audience at ease quickly and make them feel they are welcome in the room. Again, this is where something personal helps them get to know you. If I can make my audience laugh in the first few minutes that’s great. If I can make them laugh, shed a tear, and reflect soon into my message…home run! Now obviously that’s not possible every time, but the more you can learn to connect quickly, the more chance you have of keeping their attention.
Do make them feel loved – People feel loved when they aren’t criticized, made to feel bad about themselves, or like they are alone. In a message, or potentially hard-hitting blog post, it’s important for me to include myself in the struggle. Let’s face it, sharing truth can be convicting, but it shouldn’t be presented as if the speaker is immune from the struggle.
Do help them trust you – People only listen to people they trust, especially in a way that solicits a favorable response. Trust is gained by authenticity. Be honest with your audience. You may not know everything and it’s okay to let them know that. You aren’t perfect and they already know that, just be honest enough to tell them where you aren’t. They’ll sense when you aren’t transparent and hold it against you during your message.
Do help them process – The goal should be to leave the audience with a way to act on what you’ve given them. People need a challenge and they need to know clearly the next steps. In a message I try to close with some practical ways to implement the truth or a personal challenge. In a blog post I may ask a question to help someone reflect on how the post relates to them. It’s important to help them process the message further.
There are a few of my suggestions. By the way, some or all of these work in other vocations too…such as in sales or when making business presentations.