“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”― Friedrich Nietzsche
Last week, I was talking to a friend in business development who has to give a high-stakes talk at a conference. He said, “Of late, my audience is just off. They don’t respond to my one-liners or humour. Fingers crossed for a better audience next time!”
I’ve had that in the past too. A talk or presentation that was prepared for hours, with the perfect amount of witty humour, storytelling and rhetoric devices for audience engagement, that worked brilliantly at several conferences… fell completely flat at others. Zero audience engagement. No smile, no response. And worst of all, you have to continue speaking until you finish, to the wall of silent faces. Ever faced that?
Why does it happen? Even with the best speakers, even with the help of top coaches, why doesn’t the audience always respond the way you want to your amazing prepared speech?
Here’s the secret. It is not the audience that should be receptive to you. YOU should be receptive to THEM.
It is unwise to expect the same reaction to the same content from different people in front of you. Their culture, sensitivities, attitude, perception, perspectives, mood and most importantly, collective energy as an audience are completely different. I faced this last year. Gave a talk on leadership communication at a corporate event and it was my ‘ideal’ audience. They laughed, cheered, clapped at all the right points. It was a fabulous experience. Repeated the same talk at another event and they didn’t even chuckle at what I thought was a very, very ironically funny communication issue. What then? Should I continue my talk as prepared, and hope that they respond to me?
NO. Doesn’t matter which industry you’re from, and what your talk is about, if your audience engagement tactic is not working, SWITCH IT. Modify it on stage, at that moment, to reel your audience back in to your story.
What do I mean? Different speakers have different styles. Let’s say you’re dramatic; theatrical hands and exaggerated anecdotes gets you going. Or, you have a serious presentation with some interactive segments. Either way, your audience isn’t responding. Interrupt your session right there with an active audience moment- talk TO them.
Different tactics: If you’re bold, humorously acknowledge that your front row is not impressed with your Oscars-worthy story. Or, if you know someone in your audience, have a quick gag (joke) referencing him/her, that usually gets the crowd going.
Example: Barack Obama (and his speechwriters) deserve an award for superb audience engagement. Within the first few seconds of his Correspondent’s Dinner, he makes fun of the event and then himself and then different people in the audience. “Welcome to the White House Correspondents Dinner. The night when Washington celebrates itself. Somebody’s gotta do it!” The speech is filled with different techniques of rhetoric questions, self-depricating humour and direct references to members in the audience. It worked like a charm.
Now, this speech was created the way it was. For you, be prepared to pull the rabbits out of the hat. If audience-related humour isn’t working, you have to be flexible to jump into an anecdote. If the anecdote isn’t working, switch to self-referenced or relatable situations of humour for your audience. Be prepared to share a personal story, if your audience isn’t moved by your pure corporate results-driven slide deck.
Ultimately, be flexible and be receptive to the needs of your audience. Change it up on stage, find their sensitivities until you hit bull’s eye and you will create a speech that’s remembered forever. The legacy is all yours to create.
Sangbreeta Moitra is an award winning Keynote Speaker and Corporate Storyteller based in The Netherlands. She works with top corporates to help professionals find value, confidence and a powerful speaker & leader within themselves. Alongside, she functions in a leadership role as a Global Manager in the pharmaceutical industry. Follow her on LinkedIn here and contact her at SangbreetaMoitra.com