You’ve practiced your script; you know your material; you’re excited about your upcoming speaking engagement; all is right with the world; but your audience’s reaction to you is less than stellar. What went wrong? Why didn’t they enjoy your presentation?
There are many reasons why your speech or presentation may not affect your audience the way you expected but for purposes of brevity I will discuss this idea primarily from the point of view that indeed you did a very good job: they could hear you; you spoke with enthusiasm; your points were valid; your presentation was well-timed. Had you done this for a public speaking course, you would have received an A.
So what was missing with your audience? The answer is your audience. Every audience is different and you can never prejudge how they will accept you as the speaker. Were you to give a great performance at a Mark Victor Hansen Mega Conference, your audience would be incredibly receptive. Give the same performance to a group of CPAs or realtors as the final speaker at a 3-day conference and your audience could very well be unenthusiastic.
This is where timing is so very important in your placement as a speaker. If you are to speak at noon and your group is scheduled for a 1:00 pm lunch or you are to speak at 5:00 pm and the group is scheduled for a 6:00 pm dinner, you will not be as well-received as you would have had you been placed in a better spot on the roster. While people may love to hear a great speaker, the growl of the stomach often precludes one’s ability to pay close attention.
Without a doubt, the timing of your presentation can affect your audience but so too can the type of audience to whom you are addressing. Mixed crowds will be different than an all-male group or an all-female group. Addressing a Lions or Rotary Club at their monthly meeting will be different than speaking to those same people were you holding a presentation at their place of business. People who come to hear you of their own accord can receive you differently than those people who are ‘volunteered’ to listen to you because of their jobs or organizations to which they are affiliated.
While I have been giving presentations for most of my adult life, it was in my early public speaking career that I discovered how your audience can influence your delivery. When I speak on voice training, I always discuss the role of the diaphragm in breathing with the comment (not meant to be funny) that, “We all have a diaphragm, we just don’t use it.” In those early years saying those words, I had never gotten a noticeable reaction from my audiences, nor did I expect one; however, when I said those exact same words to a large group of teachers, they thought it was hysterical and laughed for some time. [From my experience I have found that teachers are one of the best audiences to have. They enjoy listening because they enjoy learning.]
Occasionally I have given a presentation and not been pleased with my delivery and yet my audience loved it; I have sometimes given a presentation in which I felt my delivery was quite strong and yet my audience did not respond as well. One time I was scheduled to speak at 8:00 pm directly following a 6:00 pm return session with one of my former workshop groups. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off because I was very, very tired and admittedly, not very excited to give that presentation. I remember this audience vividly however. They were so receptive, laughing throughout my presentation, that their enthusiasm was contagious. There is no doubt that their reception of me gave me the energy I needed to deliver. It was one of the best presentations I have ever given and undoubtedly one of the funniest.
Audiences can be a blessing in disguise or a bit of a nightmare. The best advice I can give you is to be prepared for anything because you never know what will happen when you get up to speak. That is the adventure of public speaking; and, personally, I find that to be one of the joys of addressing an audience.
The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels is a voice specialist and president of Voice Dynamic. Offering corporate and 2-day workshops throughout the US and Canada, Daniels launched Voicing It! in April of 2006, the only video training course on voice improvement. For more information go to: http://www.voicedynamic.com