7 things speakers should remember about the audience

When you make a presentation to a group —regardless of the crowd’s size or the length of your talk— your success depends largely on establishing a rapport. Keep these tips in mind.


How well do you relate to your audience?

It’s essential to keep the right attitude toward your audiences despite the stresses of travel, performance and occasionally unpredictable responses. A speaker can easily become cynical, indifferent or even angry at her audiences if the road and the stress get too much.

Here’s a quick reminder list for harried speakers:

1. Never take the audience for granted. An audience gives you its attention for the hour that you have it. That’s a wonderful present, and it’s where all thinking about an audience should begin.

2. Protect yourself. You and the audience won’t always agree. Someone will simply not like your suit, your shoes or your smile. If you’re saying something truly world-changing, lots of people might dislike your message. Arm yourself for the occasional hurt.

3. Stay open. Otherwise, no real sharing can take place. It’s on you to start the dialogue. To do that in an authentic way, you have to find ways to stay open even when you run into disagreement.

4. Always give the audience the benefit of the doubt. They’re probably away from home, too, and they have long days trying to keep up with what’s going on back at the office while they’re at the conference trying to learn something new. Let them off the hook; they’re doing the best they can.

5. Don’t blame the audience when things go wrong. It’s tempting to blame your tools, the day, the meeting planners, the technology, even the audience, but don’t fall for the easy out of finger-pointing. If things go wrong, it’s on you. You set the agenda for the hour, and you are the one at the front of the room. Whatever happens, adapt.

6. Have fun. Let it go. Whether it goes wrong, or right, don’t take it too seriously. It’s almost certainly warm and dry where you are, and there will be coffee and doughnuts at the break. Lots of worse things could be happening.

7. Don’t expect the audience to love you. The highest, best purpose of a speech is to change the world by changing the audience in front of you. To do that, you have to persuade them to let go of their status quo. That might not endear you to them. Don’t worry about it. Do your job, and let them deal with their emotions.

The psychology of performance involves huge risk and equally huge reward. You put yourself out there, open and vulnerable, in front of the audience, and you get something back—with very high stakes.

Keep these seven pointers in mind, and you’ll keep yourself oriented in the right way toward the audiences you encounter this fall and beyond.

A version of this post first appeared on Public Words.

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