Anyone whos had the pleasure, honour and challenge of teaching adolescents can face any audience! So first up: heres to the noblest profession on Earth, our teachers.
In most instances when youre hired to make a presentation to a group, your audience will behave in a civilised manner. Being realistic however, sometimes that wont be the case. For example, you might have been hired specifically to be the bearer of bad news.
Neither pleasant nor easy.
In this short article, I cant go into too much detail about how to deliver bad news to specific groups of people. However, if thats something youre dreading and youd like advice please dont hesitate to contact me. Just send me an e-mail on Jeannette@conquerpublicspeakingfears.com and Ill reply within a day, free of charge.
When youre delivering bad news, your audience may be understandably hostile. My experience is that theyll still probably behave in a peaceful and civil fashion. Its just that their questions might be difficult.
Four points to remember about questions easy and difficult
1. Please treat your audience with the respect youd like to have shown to you. Answer their questions directly and honestly. Hedging around because you feel uncomfortable just leads to death by a thousand cuts. That phrase describes what youre doing if you tell outright lies or delay telling the truth in answer to difficult questions.
2. I dont know is a very acceptable answer to some difficult questions. So relax. Never feel like you do have to know everything.
If youre asked a question and you feel you should know the answer, please consider saying: Thank you. Thats a very interesting question. Ill have to get back to you on that, after Ive spoken to _________. Ill get the answer to that back to (the organiser of the event) by Monday. Thanks again for raising that matter.
I dont think I have to say here that if you promise to get back on Monday with the information .I wont say it. You know what you have to do.
3. Set a time and a time limit for questions
In any presentation its always a good idea to set a time when the audience can ask questions. Unless its an interactive seminar where Im actively seeking input, I specify that therell be time at the end of the talk for questions. Its also good to set a limit to that question time. If youre a member of a panel of speakers the Chair will do that for you. If not, just announce first up that youll take questions for ___ minutes at the end of your presentation.
4. Never end your presentations with a Q and A session
While its great to keep the questions until after youve spoken, please make sure that you have the last word. Literally. When youve answered questions, be sure to end your presentation with a strong assertion of your main message(s).
Dealing with a difficult audience
During your presentation, if someone or a group of people, start being disruptive you wont be the only one wholl be annoyed or upset. You can use the audience to support you in dealing with difficult members within it.
For instance, you can ask the audience if they want to listen to you or to the people being disruptive. Put that question positively: this person/group is here today to deliver another point of view. Could I have a show of hands to indicate who wants to listen to them now instead of me? In 99% of cases, youll get audience support to continue.
If however the audience does want to hear the other person/group, you have nothing to lose by acceding to that. Youll have come across as a gracious and reasonable person interested in your audience.
Besides, youd have no way to keep their attention under those circumstances, so it is preferable to allow a slight break in your presentation. In twenty years of making hundreds of public addresses, that has never happened to me.
With difficult audiences there are a limited number of things you can do. Apart from actually involving the wider audience in keeping the peace, you can:
Politely but firmly advise the disruptive person that s/hell have a chance to speak and ask questions later.
Again in a polite but firm manner, remind the person that youre there to present your point of view. Neither s/he nor you is a member of a debating team.
Your role is to present your ideas and information in a compelling and engaging manner. It is not a good idea to get into arguments with one audience member or a small group.
Always remember that the audience has the responsibility to listen with polite respect. Theyre not required to agree with you, but they are required to listen.