Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Check (out) your audience at the door: 8 reasons speakers should

When you're giving a speech or presentation, do you stay away from the audience before you start? It's easy enough to do: There's almost always a speaker table, the organizer to talk to, a green room or the audio-visual with which to occupy yourself.  You're about to impart your wisdom, you need some quiet time, you want to focus your thoughts one last time.

Despite all that, there are plenty of top speakers who do exactly the opposite. You'll find them greeting participants as they enter the room, or milling about, shaking hands and starting short conversations as the crowd comes in.  At a presentation, they're talking to the early arrivals and introducing themselves with a handshake and a smile as others join the group. 

Do they know something you don't?  Maybe so. While there are some situations where you must stay apart from the audience, I recommend that you consider connecting before you start to speak formally.  Here are my reasons:
  1. It's a great grace note that will make you memorable:  Talking to audience members in advance, or at the door, is unusual enough that you'll automatically stand out as a speaker.
  2. You're adding value to their experience:  After all, the audience came to see you.  Let them do that up close, as well as from their seats. It's an easy way to take their experience of your talk from fine to fantastic.
  3. You'll hear more from the introverts:  Plenty of audience members will never, ever get up and ask a question in front of others, but they might well share an important question or insight with you one-on-one. Letting them do that in advance clues you in to audience feedback you might never otherwise hear.
  4. It works for introvert and extrovert speakers:  If you're an introvert, you're simply meeting each person one at a time, a more manageable prospect than facing a big group you haven't met yet.  If you're an extrovert, you'll gain energy from meeting a lot of people.
  5. You're warming them up better than any bad joke can:  Greet your audience, one by one, even briefly, and they'll feel as if they know you a bit more when you do start speaking.
  6. You have a better chance of sharing your business cards:  If you're there to network, you'll never catch up with every audience member after the presentation--but greeting every participant lets you share your card, a handout or some other takeaway.
  7. You can assess the mood of the room:  Asking "What are you hoping to learn today?" and observing not just the answers but the mood of your participants, in advance, will de-mystify the audience and give you the data you need to make any adjustments in your talk.
  8. It's the best introduction you can get:  The middle-man introduction will still happen, but this way, you meet the audience directly, no go-betweens. They can see for themselves who you are, up close.
This post was among those included in the latest round of  Andrew Dlugan's Six Minutes blog roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere. (It's a great way to scan the top work in public speaking.) Thanks, Andrew!

Related posts: The networked speaker: 10 ways to make the most of your next gig

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