Speaker at Business convention and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall
ATD Blog

Make Connections, Transfer Learning

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The TinCaps is the professional baseball team for Fort Wayne, Indiana. They are a Class A minor league team. Class A is where professional baseball careers begin, and successful players progress to AA, AAA, and then the big leagues. How do I know about the TinCaps? I needed to learn about them because of my job.

I work with people and organizations to help them develop better speaking skills. It’s my job to make individuals more confident, competent, and effective oral communicators. One day my job took me to Fort Wayne, Indiana. My topic in Fort Wayne was the same as my topic in Austin, San Francisco, Dover, and every other city I work. The content I share is the same: keys to better speaking. So why did I need to find out about a small baseball team?

Enter Connectors

In Own Any Occasion, I point out that all speakers need to connect with their audiences. All too often, trainers come in, deliver their content, and leave. Managers drop by, say what they have to say, and move on. SMEs create some generic online lessons, post them, and consider the job complete. In all of these situations, important content pieces have been left out: specific additions that connect the speaker with the audience and specific additions that connect the content to the specific audience.

The TinCaps were used to connect me to the audience. I flew in the night before the training and picked up the local Fort Wayne paper. I read about happenings in the city, ads for businesses, and topics of local interest. During the training, I name-dropped: “We’ll take a break at 9:30 so you can check online to see if you have important emails to attend to and to see how the TinCaps did last night. At noon, we’ll break for lunch so you can all head to Powers Hamburgers near the ballpark.”

The effect? Along the lines of, “Hey! You know about the TinCaps? Powers Hamburgers? You took time to find out something about us?”


There are other ways to connect with listeners. Pick up on what someone is wearing and use the information to start a conversation. A shirt with a team logo? From a vacation spot? From a TV show or movie? “Oh no, a Patriots fan?! I’m from Denver, so I don’t think we’ll get along.” Or, “Grand Canyon? When did you go there?” Eavesdrop, and then say, “I heard you say that your kids had a soccer game yesterday. My son is crazy about soccer.” Also, you can reveal something that you have in common with listeners. “I was so nervous when I was in your position. Years ago, I remember being in a training course similar to this one, and I was asked to…” These types of connectors move you from “outsider” to “one of us.”

Add connectors that link your topic to the lives of your listeners, too. The framework for developing speaking skills that I share does not change from place to place, yet each talk is different. I add some things to ensure listeners know that what I share applies to their lives. In one place, I might say, “You are IT people. Have you ever been in the position of trying to explain something technical to a non-IT person and they just didn’t get it? We can fix that.” I’ll use IT examples throughout my talk. In another place, “You’ve watched an associate talking to a client and thought, ‘Wow, this isn’t working,’ haven’t you? This is how to help them.” My examples will all pertain to management.


The point: There is never a generic training or generic talk. Audience members should know that your message directly applies to their lives. These types of connectors move you from generic speaker to person helping someone be better. And if you care enough to add connectors, your listeners will care more about what you have to say. Simple additions to your talk will make you much more effective.

Want to learn more about how to make connections to be a more effective speaker? Join me October 11-12 in New Orleans at the ATD Core 4 Conference.

About the Author

Erik Palmer is an author and consultant from Colorado. In his previous careers, he spent time as a floor trader on a Chicago commodity exchange and managed a commodity trading office for a major Chicago brokerage firm, becoming the company’s national sales leader. Palmer moved into the classroom and became an educator. He was the teacher of the year in one of the nation’s top school districts. Now in his third career, Palmer brings his unique experiences to his work as a consultant, speaker, and author. He is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences for educators, educational leaders, and training professionals. He has led workshops across the United States and around the world. Palmer focuses on communication skills. He shows adults how to communicate well in business and social situations with an emphasis on teaching leaders how to become more effective speakers.

Palmer’s most recent book is Own Any Occasion: Mastering the Art of Speaking & Presenting. Other book include Well-Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students; Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology; Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking; Researching in a Digital World; and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning. Palmer is a program consultant on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Into Reading and Into Literature language arts programs.
You can follow Erik on Twitter (@erik_palmer) or contact him through his website

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A great article! It's always interesting to see how things that seem so "simple" can really lend a hand in our facilitation skills.
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This is a relatively simple, yet highly effective way to put the human factor back into learning and development! Thank you for sharing your examples on how to build connections!
Thank you Natira!
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