We all have off days. It is a terrible feeling to be speaking to a group of people and feel as if you are not connecting with them or losing the audience. Your mind races as you search for solutions, become more nervous and probably, without knowing it, tend to do more harm than good in trying to find quick fixes. We speed up the pace of our talking, make bad jokes, do almost anything to fix the problem. And when it is finally over, most speakers blame the audience. “I don’t know what was wrong with those people but as hard as I tried, I just could not find a way to connect” or “they were dense and nothing I did worked” are statements commonly stated after a failed presentation.
If you find yourself in the position of feeling uncomfortable in your ability to connect with your audience, chances are high the audience feels it as well. It is your job to take steps to bridge the gap as it is the speaker’s role to be engaging, not the audience’s role to be polite.
I recently watched a speaker who could not connect with the audience. She flailed in her attempts to gain their attention. After a fair bit of time, she gave up and in frustration resorted to poking fun at and insulting the audience. Many audience members had enough at this point and simply walked out.
Instead of finding fault with the audience, here are a couple of techniques that may work for you:
- Slow down your speaking and think about what might be happening
- Change your approach – but keep it positive. Perhaps you miscalculated what strategy might work
If these do not work, then it is time to address the elephant in the room. Ask the audience if you are being clear – is what you are presenting making sense to them? Put the discomfort on the table and have a conversation with the audience about what is happening – tell them what you are trying to do and ask where you lost them. You may find a whole new approach is required or you may find you inadvertently went too quickly over one key point.
Phrase your questions in a manner that clearly keeps the pressure on yourself and does not place blame on the audience. Ask if you are being clear and not if they are understanding.
Talking with the audience demonstrates you care and subsequently increases your credibility. You may find a way to fix the problem or you may find your perceptions of being disconnected is completely off-base – it is possible they are engaged and intently listening. Either way you stand to win by asking the questions.
The speaker I mentioned earlier in this article spiraled downward and out of control. In her attempts to fix the situation, she simply made it worse and lost all credibility. Follow the steps mentioned above and you have the chance to save your presentation while increasing your credibility.
© 2016 – This speaking tip is one in a series provided to you by iSpeakEASY. Call for information on individual coaching or group training.