Public Speaking: How To Treat Your Audience With Respect

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Imagine yourself as an audience member. You’ve paid big money to learn the secrets of your favorite guru. You’ve read the guru’s books, subscribed to his newsletter, and you read his blog daily. Now you have the opportunity to learn from him in person at his highly-publicized weekend seminar.

The guru comes onto the stage and starts speaking. You listen expectantly, anticipating an educational and entertaining presentation. Instead, you find yourself feeling more and more uncomfortable, as the guru seems to talk endlessly about his personal success, all the famous people he knows (many of whom you’ve never heard of), and how you’ll never be successful unless you do x, y, and z. At the end of the seminar you leave, feeling deflated, disappointed and resentful.

Now put yourself back in the driver’s seat. As the speaker, it’s your job to learn about your audience, discover their needs and wants, and figure out how best to serve those needs. How can you serve your audience if you’re badgering and intimidating them? Some speakers aren’t aware of these behaviors or the negative way they’re being perceived, but by following the tips below, you can ensure that your audience will never walk away feeling defeated.

Pointer 1: Name-dropping makes you look insecure

You’ve already been invited to speak. The organizers are aware of your credentials. The audience has already paid to attend your presentation. There’s no need to keep trying to impress them with your long list of credentials and famous cohorts.

One result of dropping names of famous clients or colleagues is that audience members who haven’t heard of these people are immediately at a disadvantage. They become distracted, wondering who you’re talking about and whether it’s important to know. They don’t want to raise their hands to ask for clarification, because they’re insecure, too, and they fear looking stupid. They feel left out, and that’s the first step to disconnecting from you and your message.

If you must name names, clarify for your audience who you’re talking about. Mention the title of the book she wrote, the TV show he starred in, the restaurants he owns. And only name names if it furthers the objective of your presentation. Your audience wants to be included; help them feel like they’re “in the loop.”

Pointer 2: Badgering gets old

You want participation from the audience. You want to ask them questions and get answers. You want them to laugh and have a good time. Sometimes you push too hard, and this can cause some audience members to become sullen and defiant, resisting your authoritative manner. Do you want them working with you or against you?

When you ask a question of the audience, permit them to answer if they want to. Don’t badger them by saying, “Right? Right?” or “Yes or no? Yes or no?” until they respond. Instead of asking yes or no questions, ask open-ended questions that allow them to share their own experiences and knowledge.

Offer discussion questions and ask them to share with a neighbor, or hand out cards with questions or ideas on them and ask willing participants to share. Instead of ordering them to “write this down,” let them decide what notes they want to take.

Intimidating the audience into responding only makes them feel small and embarrassed, like chastised children. Treat them like the wise, experienced adults they are.

Pointer 3: Connection is more important than perfection

Speakers often fear making mistakes, forgetting their words or being judged incompetent by the audience. In order to cover all their bases, they rehearse and practice until their words and mannerisms are completely memorized, down to every gesture and pause. How does the audience respond to this speaker? With glazed eyes and detachment. It’s hard to relate to a robot.

The audience wants to connect with, relate to, and be emotionally involved with the speaker. An overly slick and polished exterior creates an emotional barrier between you and the audience, and interferes with the absorption of your message.

How do you practice your presentation enough that you’re comfortable, but not mechanical? Always make sure your opening and closing are strong and focused and that you are comfortable with the first and last five minutes of your talk.

Put the body of your presentation into simple notes or bullet format so that you can practice your main points but not have them so memorized that you’ll be thrown off if someone asks a question in the middle of it. This is the part where you’re going to want to interact with the audience, and that interaction can sometimes change the direction or tone of the presentation if you’re flexible and willing to go where the audience wants to go.

Know your topic inside out and prepare for questions by anticipating what the audience might want to know. Beyond that, you can’t plan for all circumstances, so allow yourself to be human. If you do make a mistake or forget your words briefly, have a chuckle at yourself and move on. This will win you more points with the audience than having a perfectly memorized speech, guaranteed.

Constantly read your audience throughout the presentation. Stay connected with them and be aware of how they’re responding to you. Treat them with respect, kindness and good humor, and instead of feeling defeated at the end of your talk, they’ll feel like winners.

Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for my newsletter and find out about my e-course and free consultation by visiting


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