by Arielle Essex

Rapport with groups

Getting rapport with groups of people requires more flexibility and different skills than getting one-to-one rapport. Treating groups by responding to each person individually doesn’t work. When people sit in groups, different dynamics come into play.

1. Who to match at meetings

Some of the one-to-one matching skills can be adapted to working with a group of people. However, at a meeting, each person will have different energy, needs, attitude, and speed of thinking and talking. Obviously, you can’t match them all at the same time! But while you are speaking, as you address issues that would be of particular interest to someone in the room, you can look at that person and match them in your delivery.

Who you choose to match, though, depends on what outcome you have and what the purpose of the meeting might be. There will be some people at the meeting who will give you approachable signals of listening: making eye contact, nodding their heads, looking friendly, encouraging and agreeable. It can be tempting to play to this audience and ignore the rest. But if you focus on the easy, approachable people, you may miss key signals from the others. In fact, because the approachable people will probably listen to you anyway, you don’t need to focus on them.

Instead, mark out the key credible players at a meeting; in other words, identify those with the most decision-making power – the leaders in the group. Strategically, these are the people you need to address, satisfy and convince. If you succeed in winning their agreement, chances are that everyone else will follow. Concentrate on matching their style and meeting their expectations and needs. Because these people do not give you encouraging signals, your matching skills need to address the deeper dynamics. (For more detailed information see Charismatic group dynamics.)

2. Match the sensory input

People classically receive sensory input in four ways: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and analytical. Basically, what this means is that they process thoughts by seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking about things. So in your presentation you need to vary your delivery, since the people at the meeting will each have different preferences.

  • Instead of just talking, be sure to include diagrams, graphs, overheads, power points, DVDs or work on a flip chart to appeal to the visual types.
  • For your auditory listeners, vary your voice speed and tone, adding emphasis to important parts, and examples to illustrate vital points.
  • For kinaesthetics, get some passion into describing the importance of your message.
  • Give the analytical people plenty of data so they can follow your line of thought and reach the same conclusions.

3. Match the information input

The ways in which people pay attention to information fall into four different categories. Our various brains are literally wired to sort for specific types of information. In other words, different people want different questions answered. If you cover each type and meet these requirements in your presentation, you will satisfy everyone in the room. This will make your presentation seem thorough and balanced. Depending on the issue to be discussed and the nature of the group, every aspect may contain vital information.

The four corners to cover (based on the 4-mat system):


Why does anyone need to know this? Why is it important? Why does it have any purpose at this meeting? Why talk about it now?


Remember that the purpose of most meetings is not to cover all the minute details; it’s to get agreement and keep everyone informed of progress.


What is the content you need to communicate? You may want to start with a big picture overview and then add the appropriate amount of detail for that meeting. It may or may not be important for everyone to hear the detail at the meeting. Perhaps this can be supplied as a written report. The most dynamic meetings usually distil the essence of detail down to a minimum and use graphs or metaphors to illustrate the main points.


How is this going to be implemented? How will this be achieved? How can this be progressed step by step? How will specific people be involved? How much funding is necessary? How about time scales and deadlines? How do current plans already in place fit with this? How can we get to commitment stage right now?

What if

What if it all goes pear-shaped? What protective measures need to be installed? What else needs to be considered? What if the things don’t proceed as projected? What could go wrong? What if people don’t buy it? What professional or legal requirements need to be addressed? What repercussions might it have, short term and long term?

The power of ‘PAUSE’

When nervous, or excited about having the floor, many people are tempted to rabbit on about their subject non-stop, barely pausing for breath. This is a big mistake. Too much information delivered too fast is deadly. The brains of the listeners cannot keep up. As a result, many people will switch off and miss the important points of your delivery. Less is more. Emphasise an important point. Pause to give people time to think about it. Then continue. Keep information to a minimum and make it as digestible as possible.