What was the most difficult audience, you had as a speaker? Imagine that you enter a subway car and you see 34 tired and bored passengers. They are reading books, listening to Mp3 players or just daydreaming. They don’t know it yet but they are your audience. Your goal by the end of the speech is to shake hands with everyone in the subway car.
14 months ago my school friend Sergey and I were standing on the platform of the Kyiv subway in front of the train car’s open door. To shake everyone’s hand in the subway car was the task we had received on a sales training course to learn how to build rapport and connect with people.
“Sergey, there are too many people.”
“Yeah, Andrii, let’s skip this one.”
About 10 minutes later another train arrived.
“Andrii, have you seen those 5 guys with shaved heads, in leather jackets, with beer? I don’t want to be beaten up.”
“Me neither. Let’s wait for another train.”
Seven trains later, we finally entered a car. Sergey was first.
“Hi, my name is Sergey. Could you please shake my hand?” “No? You don’t want to shake my hand?”
“Good afternoon! Today is handshake day. Will you shake my hand?” “No? I see.”
“Hi. Good afternoon! Could you shake my hand?”
“What’s wrong with you, man? Do you have glue on your palm?”
Sergey approached every single person in the car and by the time he reached the end and turned, not one of the 34 people had shaken his hand.
How would you feel if 34 times in a row your hand hadn’t been shaken? If you were with me and Sergey in that subway car you would feel how long those 3 minutes lasted. And the next train was my turn.
I thought, “What if I was a passenger, and a young guy entered a car and did what Sergey did, would I shake his hand?” “Probably…not.”
While we were waiting for the next train on the platform I thought, “What should this guy have done, so that I would have a burning desire to shake his hand?”
When the train arrived, I entered the car and voice announced my speech: “Ladies and gentlemen, caution the doors are closing. The next station is …”
“Good afternoon, my name is Andrii. I wish you all a good mood. Today I am here with my friend Sergey from the United States. He doesn’t believe that we Kievers are friendly and welcoming. I have made a bet with Sergey that we are so friendly and welcoming that even all people in the subway car will shake my hand. Please help me prove that he is wrong”
The young guy smiled at me.
“Hi, I wish you all the best.”
Then, I saw a 60-year-old gentleman that smiled at me from the opposite side of the car. “Have a nice day! I wish you a great
The girl with pink hair and pierced nose jumped. “You forgot about me, you forgot about me!”
“Nice to meet you, I wish you all the best!”
I approached every single person in the car and even the people at the end, who hadn’t heard my pitch at the beginning, shook my hand, because they saw that everyone else before them had done the same.
When I reached the end of the car and turned, I saw that the young guy wasn’t listening to his Mp3 player, the old gentleman wasn’t reading his book and nobody was daydreaming. Everybody was looking at me and smiled.
I realized that not only did I shake everyone’s hand, but also put all passengers in a good mood. Maybe some of them when they got home told their sons, sisters or friends: “I saw a wacky guy in a subway car today. He shook everyone’s hand and it was fun.”
That day, I learned that if you want to connect with people and to shake hands with everyone in a subway car, you need to make your speech interesting for your audience, be passionate and energetic and shake hands with those people who react positively to you first.
In public speaking it’s the same. If you want people to accept your ideas: make your speech interesting for your audience, be passionate and energetic and through handshakes or eye contact, connect with people who react positively to you first. And others will follow.
This subway car was my most difficult and most easy audience. There are no difficult audiences. There are only audiences with which we do not connect.