The Art of Relatability

By Brenda Yoder

You think I live in a fairytale world, don’t you? I asked my student. He lived a few miles from my house and saw our well-manicured lawn and white picket fence as he drove to school each day. His perception of my life was an obstacle to the message I wanted him to hear. He assumed I wouldn’t understand the struggles of his family life because he perceived my world was perfect. 

Though I’m a professional speaker, being a high school teacher was my hardest speaking gig. Daily, I spoke to an audience of 180 teens whose favorite pastime was judging others and being mean. If I wasn’t relatable or trustworthy, it didn’t matter how well I presented the content, I wouldn’t earn validity as one from whom they would let themselves learn. 

The same is true for your readers, audience, or social media followers. They make judgments and perceptions about you whether you realize it or not. Some judgments may hinder them from receiving your message. Being relatable is the key that builds personal connection and an ear with an audience. Here are six tips for relatability that will make you a speaker or writer who audiences love. 

  1. Communicate common experiences. If you’re speaking to women, don’t be afraid to joke about chin hairs, laundry, or wrinkles. If you’re teaching on a specific topic, tap into ordinary fears or questions people may have. Do an ice breaker or ask a question like, “What’s your biggest pet peeve?” This lets your audience share in a common, relatable experience. It makes them feel connected with you and each other.
  1. Accentuate universal emotions. When sharing a story, focus on feelings such as laughter, embarrassment, pain, disappointment, guilt, or other emotions. You build trust and equity with your audience when they think, “Wow, that’s how I felt!” Emotions are powerful and create common bonds, though experiences may be different.
  1. Talk with your audience, not at them. None of us like to be talked down to or told what to do, even when we ask for advice. When speaking or writing as the authority on a topic, get on level ground with your audience. Solve their problems with compassion and humility. Think about your target audience as if you were talking one on one with them. Consider your tone, expression, and word choice. Imagine how they would personally receive your message, and change your approach accordingly.
  1. Get to know your audience. If you’re speaking, ask the event planner about the group to whom you are speaking. Are they of a certain age group, socio-economic status, or education level? What struggles do they have? Are they more formal, or laid back? On social media platforms, look at your demographics. Throw out some questions or polls to get to know your audience better. Then, create content that relates to them!
  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh a little and lighten up. Your audience isn’t drawn to perfection. Like my student who thought I lived in a fairytale world, your audience wants to know you’re human like they are. That will draw them in. Relax and be approachable so people know you see them and care about them. 
  1. Serve your followers, audience, or readers. Meet the needs of your online community by sharing resources and encouraging them. If you’re speaking in person, don’t be afraid to help with simple tasks to make the event go smoothly. Ask questions and be a good listener. Even when writing, communicate in such a way that the reader feels affirmed and validated. 

People remember those who make them feel understood and comfortable. You don’t want your fairytale life to prevent you from connecting with your audience. Who knew that those common warts you had in junior high would become your biggest professional asset!

Question:  Which of your flaws has made you the most relatable to your listeners or readers? 

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Are you registered for the Speak Up Conference yet?  On July 14-16, 2021, we’ll have a writers’ track and a speakers’ track, and you’ll have an opportunity to connect with other emerging teachers, writers, and leaders. Along with powerful keynote sessions, this virtual event will offer 42 breakout sessions and opportunities for one-one-one ZOOM meetings with author and speaker mentors. Click here for information.

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1 Comment

  1. Teresa A Moyer on 2021-05-12 at 7:51 PM

    Great tips and advice…thank you!

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