Difficult Audiences

When the Audience is the Bully

I remember my first corporate consulting assignment. I landed a multi national bank who hired me to train 70 MBAs in their credit training program. After developing the curriculum, the day finally arrived when I was to deliver the writing and presentation skills seminar. I was feeling excited and a little anxious.

Public Speaking is Going to the Dogs


hunting-dogs-800845_960_720It's the Dog Days of August and public speaking is going to the dogs - in a good way. Animals, especially dogs, have been used in pet therapy programs for years. Research shows that pets can help lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety. Bonnie Auslander, who specializes in business communication, decided to use dogs to help reduce public speaking anxiety in front of an audience. Knowing that dogs are successfully used in pet therapy, Auslander applied the idea to speaking anxiety. The sessions were part of a pilot program at American University. They recruited 12 canines who were chosen for their calm personalities. Nervous business students were paired with a friendly dog.

Did it work? The evidence was anecdotal. The students reported that looking at dogs made them smile.

True confession: When I was starting out as a public speaker, I would place stuffed animals in chairs and would practice my speech as well as my eye contact. The only downside was when my husband walked into the room and saw me talking to a bunch of chairs.

The idea was to mentally remove the negative image of a scary audience and to replace it with something or someone who is accepting.

While we don't know if this experiment in reducing speech anxiety will transfer to a human audience, it can't hurt. The dogs allow the public speakers to "feel the love", and it's a win win. The public speaker reduces anxiety and the canines get undivided attention.

So I guess it's true. Every dog has it's day.


Is Your Difficult Audience in the Workplace?


When you think about difficult audiences, do you envision an audience in an auditorium with you speaking on the stage? Well, you don't have to be a formal public speaker to encounter a difficult audience. Your audience includes your co-workers, employees, management and vendors. When you're dealing with so many different personalities it's inevitable that there will be conflict. Here's where trained  public speakers have an advantage - the skills that are used to handle a difficult audience also apply when you're communicating one-on-one.

But what if you can prevent conflicts in the workplace? That's even better. Nobody has a 100% conflict-free life, but many conflicts can be averted when you understand yourself and others.

The unexamined life isn't worth living." -Socrates

The first step in managing a difficult person or situation is to understand how you're wired. What is your natural behavioral style? This is the way you communicate easily without much conscious effort. It's like being right handed. You don't think about it. When you meet a person or audience who has the same behavioral style as you, communication happens more easily.

But what happens when you encounter people who are your opposite? This is when an audience may be perceived as difficult. It would be great to have a tool that would help you recognize different behavioral styles so you know how to communicate effectively.

The DiSC Behavioral Profile can help you do that quickly and simply. The DiSC Behavioral Profile identifies your natural communication style, shows you how to recognize different styles, and gives you the tools for managing those differences.

In other words, you'll learn to speak their language and have greater influence, better communication, more understanding, and less stress.

Most often, conflicts happen because of differences in style; you're talking apples, they're talking oranges.

This can happen when you're giving a presentation to a group. For example, too often, technical people give too much detail to senior management. Or, a sales presentation lacks the level of data and evidence preferred by a scientific audience.

By knowing how others are wired, you can predict the commonalities you'll share, you'll be able to predict the conflicts that may arise, and you'll have a strategy to compromise.

Here's what one client had to say about DiSC:

Wow... Just signed on to take the DISC program with Diane and she helped me learn how to communicate with style!! Diane was simply amazing and her suggestions were 'spot on'. No one should miss this opportunity!"

-A. Weidberg

Don't know which style you are? Want to know more about DiSC? Contact us and ask for a free sample report.

Don't Monkey Around With Your Presentation

I read an interesting story written by Deborah Grayson Riegel, who was giving a presentation at the Bronx zoo. In addition to her human audience, there were 20 monkeys outside with their faces pressed against the window, watching her presentation. Each time she advanced her PowerPoint slide, the monkeys would bang their fists against the window. Eventually, she had to let go of her PowerPoint presentation, and stopped changing the slides altogether. Most of us are not going to be speaking at the zoo, but we will have our own monkeys to deal with - the usual cast of characters known as a difficult audience - hecklers, people causing distractions, zoning out, and generally interrupting your presentation. It's important to be flexible and work with your audience.

Speaking of monkeys... someone recently threw a monkey wrench into my half day presentation training workshop, which was scheduled from 1:00 - 4:00pm. We were told that four of the participants had to leave by 2:30. The program was designed to build speaking skills so the speakers would be prepared to give their final presentations at the end of the workshop. We had to do a quick redesign on the spot - in 5 minutes. My partner and I huddled and came up with a plan. The goal was to give each participant the opportunity to present, leave on time, and still gain enough learning to succeed in their next presentation. It worked.

In public speaking, as in life, we always need a backup plan. Deborah had no choice - the monkeys forced her to stop using PowerPoint. Your audience may be more subtle, but good public speakers pick up the nuances and can change in a moment to better serve their listeners. Technology will fail. And an audience can quickly tune out. We need to be able to go where the current is taking us. That's the mark of a professional speaker.

Speaking to a Grieving Audience

The other evening I was preparing for my next Confidence Class for eighth grade girls in my community when an email came across my desk. A mother warned me that the principal of the school died yesterday afternoon suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.  She alerted me that the girls were shocked and broken up by the news and she wasn’t sure how responsive they would be in the class. I thanked her for letting me know and planned my strategy. I recalled a professional speaker who spoke before an audience that was not responding. No matter what he did he couldn’t get a reaction. They just sat there with blank faces. Finally, he played his last card and said with exasperation, “What’s going on? Did somebody die?

Life is a Presentation and Memorials are No Exception

Last night I attended the memorial service for Laurie Meyer, owner of Programs Plus Speakers Bureau in New York City. She died in January at the age of 57 of cancer. It was a shock to all. Laurie was an active member of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and the NY chapter rallied and planned a memorial service for her.

While the purpose of a memorial service is to honor and remember the life of the loved one, how it's staged, and how people communicate can have a major impact. Last night, all the rules of good presentation were fulfilled. The memorial was effectively organized and represented Laurie well. Booking the service in a comedy club was very much in keeping with Laurie's passion for doing stand up. A video of Laurie doing her comedy act made an impactful and attention-getting opener. Laurie's sister thanked everyone and was the first speaker. The emcee kept the evening moving by clearly and concisely announcing each speaker.

The program provided a variety of tributes-songs, poems, comedy acts, personal readings and sharing from the heart. Each person spoke for about three minutes or less and quickly exited the stage. The presenters provided a good balance of laughter and tears. The evening gently ended with people gathering for food and conversation.

As with all presentations, success results from good planning and coordination, choosing the right venue, a strong captivating opening, a variety of messages and styles targeted to the right audience, speaking from the heart to create engagement and an opportunity to meet afterward to bond with the audience.

Laurie will be missed and even in her absence she taught us how to present a great meeting.