No matter how experienced you are as a presenter, you will occasionally speak to an audience that just doesn’t respond as positively to you as you had hoped.
As an experienced speaker, my goal is to create a “magical” experience for the audience every time out. I want to pitch a perfect game, complete every pass and block every shot. But every once in a while, I encounter an audience that responds to me politely but without much enthusiasm.
Years ago, I used to blame the audience for that: “What a crappy audience. Bunch of idiots.”
That was only my insecurity talking. As I’ve become more secure in my speaking abilities, I never blame the audience. Doing so doesn’t help me grow as a speaker. Analyzing what I could have done differently does.
Here are 10 things to consider when your speech isn’t received with the enthusiasm you would like:
1. Was the event marketed properly? Did you look at the invitations, agendas and marketing materials before they were printed and published? If not, is it possible that the audience had a different expectation for your talk from what you did?
2. Did you miss something in your research? Did you conduct research about the group, their concerns and their level of knowledge prior to your talk? If so, did you fail to uncover important information that might have changed the focus of your talk?
3. Were they biased against you before you even started talking? If you’re an environmental activist speaking to a pro-business group, you might meet resistance before you even say your first word. That doesn’t mean you can’t win them over, but it means you have to forge a genuine personal connection first. Is it possible that you didn’t consider any biases they may have had against you or your industry before speaking?
4. Did the setting create interference? Did something in the room interfere with your communication? Were people seated too far apart from one another? Did the microphone carry your voice sufficiently? Were people able to see the visuals? Was the room temperature comfortable?
5. Did the audience members know one another? Did members of the audience know each other, or were they strangers? If they were strangers, should you have started with something that made them feel more comfortable with one another, such as an ice breaker or a brief breakout exercise? If they did know one another, was there any tension among them (e.g., the engineering staff resents the marketing team)?
6. Did you fail to ease them in? If you were making a persuasive speech or introducing change, did you jump to your conclusion too quickly before giving audience members the information and rationale they needed first? Did you inadequately address their concerns before moving on to your recommended step?
7. Could your presentation have been organized better? Is it possible that you tried to say too much and oversaturated the audience? Or that your thoughts weren’t organized in a way that helped the audience follow you? Or that you didn’t give the audience a sense of where you were going with the talk, prompting them to give up and tune out? Or that you simply sequenced your information badly (e.g., you started with a startling fact instead of easing them in with a softer story)?
8. Were you speaking at the right level of complexity? Was your speech too simple for an experienced group or too detailed for an inexperienced one?
9. Were your visuals complementary, not competitive? Did you drown your audience with a sea of text on PowerPoint slides? Could you have used fewer slides-or better slides-to reinforce your points in a more visual manner? Would props, flip charts or handouts have helped you make your points more effectively?
10. Was it you? Did you really care about this presentation and the people in your audience? Did you have even the slightest whiff of condescension toward the audience? Did you communicate your interest in the audience, focusing solely on their needs and not your own impressive bona fides? Did you prepare as much as you should have for the presentation? Did you express the passion necessary to inspire other people to care about your topic?
Brad Phillips is president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books: “The Media Training Bible” and “101 Ways to Open a Speech.”