Have you ever given a speech or presentation only to find that your audience isn’t responding? Maybe you’ve experienced the blank stares, the low hum of chatting, no response to your effort to engage or worse. It’s enough to swear off opening your mouth to more than an audience of one. Don’t despair.
Here’s a few tips to connect more effectively with your audience:
1. Learn as much as you can about your audience before your talk. If you have access to the meeting planner ask very specific questions about the makeup of the group including: male to female ratio, age range, occupations, experience. Don’t forget to inquire about the group’s expectations of the meeting and your speech.
2. Not all audiences respond the way that you might like them to respond. I learned early on that some audiences, particularly highly analytical individuals–engineers, some military, high-tech workers–often respond with little emotion, facial expression or overt engagement. At first I thought I was totally missing the mark until I asked my audience, both individually and as a whole, if they were getting what they needed from my training. It meant that I needed to notice more subtle signs of engagement ie. copious note taking or concentration vs. blank stares.
3. Be flexible in your ability to shift your presentation. If you notice that you are not connecting to your audience you must have a way to shift your presentation or discard it altogether! I probably just scared the beejeezus out of you some of you with that last comment. First let me give you a few things you can do to shift your presentation.
a. Ask your audience if the information you are providing is helpful. Listen to the response even if you get a knee-jerk “yes.” You may need to dig a bit deeper to find out what they are responding to and proceed in that direction.
b. Shake things up by doing something unexpected. Show some real emotion and dump the logic. Dump your power point and speak from the heart. Change your voice, your posture or make an outrageous statement. Invite controversy. Contrary statements arouse interest.
c. Move into your audience, if you have that kind of flexibility, so your audience must physically shift in their seats. Physical movement helps wake them up.
4. If you notice that your message is the wrong message you’ll need to make a big change.
Let me share a quick story with you.
I was slated to speak to a mixed audience of hospital personnel everyone from doctors to the security guard. The topic was on motivation and it was a full day training. The problem was that I polled my audience first thing about what their expectations were from the day’s training. Guess what? Their expectations did not match the curriculum at all. I could have pressed ahead and tried to make some concessions to their needs.
But I didn’t. I took a huge risk but I asked permission of my audience if it would be okay if I tossed the agenda and the learning guide and simply honored their request to learn about self-motivation. (The course curriculum was about motivating team members.) I also asked for their patience with my flow and continuity since I would not be working from a course outline. With that permission I created a completely audience-centered, experiential day of training for them. Luckily it succeed as noted by the group’s feedback.
I do not suggest this option unless you have confidence in your knowledge and presentation skills.
5. Cut your speech short. No one is going to feel cheated. Trust me your audience will appreciate your consideration. This works especially well if you are speaking after other speakers who have gone overtime.
Let me know what works for you.
Want to have Allie speak to your group? Click here to learn more. Pick up a copy of Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work-What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up for more tips and techniques.