Monday, August 5, 2013

Make the Audience Your Partner

“I try to ignore the audience,” a client told me. “But I’m slated to speak to 5,000 people in a few weeks. I’m really nervous. Can you help me?”
“That’s a lot of people to ignore,” I commented. “I can help minimize your anxiety but…. it will mean a change in your attitude.”
Instead of ignoring your audience, a speaker’s task is to connect and interact with them.  If you want to be successful, you need to call up ideas and images in their minds that will be understood, relevant and of value to them. The opening song in The Music Man, “Ya Gotta Know the Territory," is astute advice for any speaker. Do a thorough audience analysis. Shift the focus off yourself and become audience-centered. 
To do this, you need to progress through the Three Stages of a Presenter.

The lst stage is when you are involved with yourself. Fears and anxieties are running rampant in this stage. It is all about ME, ME, ME. The speaker is concerned about making a fool of themselves and the impression they make on the audience.  Do they think I’m intelligent? What if I fail? Someone laughed - did I say something stupid?  Am I dressed too casually?” 

The 2nd stage is involvement with your material or visuals. The speaker is so wrapped up in the content that he/she will get through their material no matter how the audience responds. “I know I’m going overtime but I want to get in another point.” Five people can fall off their chairs in the back row from boredom but the speaker doesn’t react to this – they just plow through the graphics.

We should all be working towards the 3rd stage. This is when the speaker goes beyond him/herself and the material and is focused on the audience. “Am I starting from where they are? Have I transformed concepts and ideas so that they are understandable and useful to the audience?  In this stage, the speaker is aware of developing an emotional connection as well as delivering information. He or she involves the audience immediately and draws them in throughout the speech.   Am I getting the response I want or should I modify my words or delivery?” Instead of “me” oriented it becomes “we” oriented.

As I helped my client focus on his audience’s needs, desires and goals, he began to forget some of his anxieties. He told me later he waved to the audience when he went on stage and although startled at the welcoming response, felt ok. Then he concentrated on making sure they left with practical information.
Make the audience your partner in your next communication situation.