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The Pandemic Epidemic of Loneliness

Here's how speakers can be more sensitive to their audiences right now.

Key points

  • Isolation has led many people to become more lonely during the pandemic.
  • A new study has revealed the dangers of loneliness on society and individuals.
  • Speakers returning to the stage after a long absence should focus on openness, connecting with their audience, being passionate, and listening.
Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels
Source: Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

A good deal has been written about the increase in negative mental health indicators during the pandemic. Drug abuse, mental illness, depression—all of it has gotten worse during these past 18 months. At the root of it is loneliness. As people experience isolation, some are resilient, but most of us are not, and we become lonelier.

Now a new study reveals why that is dangerous for society, as well as the individuals who are suffering. Loneliness makes it more likely that we are more sensitive to threats. The parts of the brain that respond to threats become more agitated. As a result, we may become more hostile to those around us, thus further pushing people away and making us lonelier still.

It’s a vicious circle that sadly means that marginalized members of society are likely to become more marginalized.

I’ve noted that as I’ve started to meet clients in person again, we often feel a bit of social awkwardness in those first few moments of face-to-face interaction—something we have not done much of in the past 18 months. Our skills have atrophied, and it will take time for them to come back to normal. It’s a relatively mild form of the disease, but many of us will experience it as we come back to face-to-face interactions.

When we talk about the human cost of the pandemic, the most tragic is the loss of life, compounded by the difficulty in being able to mourn properly on Zoom. But these less shocking and clear losses are real, nonetheless. As part of our social healing post-pandemic, we should make a special effort to reach out to those that have suffered from loneliness, either through social media, or through the various networks and organizations that help bind people together in the best and worst of times.

All of this demands a special sensitivity from speakers returning to the stage after this long unintended absence. If your audience is populated with even some more abrasive people, reaching them and connecting with them will be more difficult, with more opportunities for audience members to take offense at what you might say. Four steps speakers should take to ensure that your first steps back on the stage aren’t missteps follow.

Start out focusing on openness. You should be ready to make the first move – indeed, the first several moves. Model openness by engaging in warm, friendly, open body language and storytelling.

Then look to connect with your audience. Once you’ve sent the open message to your audience, creating a positive space between you, look for ways to connect with them—on their own time. Don’t force it or rush it. This is not the time to yell at your audience, “I can’t hear you!” after saying “Good Morning!” hoping that someone will say “good morning” back to you—to pick a particularly annoying pre-pandemic example. This is the time to use all your EQ to make it easy for the audience to feel connected with you by finding similarities, expressing solidarity, and bridging the gap between you and them.

Get passionate. Once you are open to the audience, and you’ve worked on connecting with them, you can turn up the passion. The audience should be receptive to your energy if you’ve done the necessary groundwork.

Finally, listen. Even as you are telling your crackerjack story, remember that the audience wants to be seen and heard more than anything else. Especially the loneliest ones. Look for ways to get audience participation and feedback. Don’t make it a one-way conversation.

Now more than ever, it’s time to show that we humans are members of an all-inclusive family and need to be connected. Speakers can do their part in helping the world return to normal even as we climb those steps onto the stage to stand out from the audience and bring our messages to audiences everywhere.