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.
It'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.
Mitt Romney was invited to speak to the NAACP knowing that it's members are overwhelmingly Democratic. He acknowledged and thanked his hosts and expressed his honor at being invited. He made an attempt at humor by saying “I hope the Obama campaign doesn’t think you’re playing favorites.“ There was a mild tittering from the crowd.
Governor Romney anticipated the question everybody was thinking. How did a Republican become governor of Massachusetts? He explained that he made the case to every single voter as he was doing now and later added, “I know candidates can expect a fair hearing from a venerable organization like this."
He clearly articulated his goals to provide jobs, improve education, and to help the middle class. His approach was to cut unnecessary spending. And then it happened. He said he would repeal Obama care which was greeted with booing from the crowd. It happens to many speakers.
In the late 1990's I gave a presentation in one of the Southern states. I was talking about behavioral styles and cited Bill Clinton as a typical "Influencing" or sales personality. All of a sudden I heard booing from the class. The South is generally Republican territory and Clinton was not popular. I smiled and made a joke about it and went on.
In the case of Romney, he stayed cool, smiled, and waited for the booing to die down. He didn’t get defensive and was allowed to continue. Romney spoke to the facts and repeated his intention to “create jobs for the American people.”
When he did score points with the crowd it was met with quiet applause. He extolled his record as governor by citing the improvement in reading and math scores and his raising the standards for high school graduation. He was able to successfully veto the bill that would block charter schools in Massachusetts by joining forces with the Black Caucus.
In an effort to build a bond, he told the story of his father, George Romney, who was involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Unfortunately, it wasn't his own experience and didn't hit the mark.
Overall, Romney gave a professional speech. He clearly communicated his message points. You knew what he stood for. He stood on his record of accomplishments in Massachusetts.
Romney tried to influence with facts. As a result, he came from his head and not his heart. The missing ingredient was passion. Governor Romney needed to tell personal stories. It was a good speech, but not a moving speech. He received a polite standing ovation. The audience didn’t dislike him. They just weren’t moved by him.
It’s difficult enough for any speaker to present before an audience that isn't openly receptive. In an organization, a CEO who is announcing layoffs will not be greeted with enthusiasm. But an outstanding speaker can position a message and speak with such passion and conviction that they can influence an audience. That didn’t happen here. Could it have? Probably not. Romney needs to express more passion and personal connection if he is to win over his audience.
But does it matter that he was booed? Not really. What he accomplished was to get his message out. He didn't need to talk over the crowd and he wasn't forced off stage. Whenever a speaker delivers a message that is unpopular, the risk is rejection. It goes with the territory. The question to ask is this: Did the message get heard?
Have you ever been booed? How did you handle it?