Oh, the things people do! If you are a professional speaker or simply do it when you can to support your business, nonprofit or personal mission, you know that there is no perfect audience.
Well, the truth is that not everyone wants to be there. Hard to hear, sometimes, but true. There are often countless other places they’d rather be than sitting in a conference room listening to a professional speaker. Or you might just be seen as the best option at a conference when there are many to choose from.
Of course, your topic may be part of the problem. I get paid to speak on topics like marketing, branding, social networking and creating momentum. Luckily those topics tend to do well at conferences and industry events. I also have a passion for career strategy and do a lot of free speaking there. Helping people.
Some audience members are tired, bored, jittery, cold, distracted, uncomfortable in the chairs and the like. So in some ways you can’t blame them, right?
So this is a two-part post. This first post is about all the rotten things people do when they should be listening to you. “Rotten” is a bit harsh, I know. But I’m trying to make a point, folks. Tomorrow’s post (part 2) is about engaging your audience so they aren’t tempted to be rotten.
So here’s the rotten list. All things I’ve witnessed at (gasp) some of my own speaking events and elsewhere.
1. Get up and leave – Yeah, this one hurts. It is (apparently) a clear signal that someone is not engaged. And wants to send a message to the speaker that, despite good manners, they are done. Of course, they simply may have to use the restroom. Or have a call to take and don’t want to be rude. If more than one person leaves, it starts to look bad, doesn’t it?
2. Talk on the phone – Even if someone tries to cover it up with a hand over the phone. And a whisper. This still is very obvious and can be very distracting. Especially if the call starts with a nice loud ring and an embarrassed moment of laughter. Some speakers are very open to use of smart phones, however. Especially if a great and supportive message is heading out to a social platform like Twitter or Facebook.
3. Work on the computer – It’s hard to see this one as being positive. Especially if their eyes never meet yours for the full hour. Then you know there is little to no engagement. Yes, your presentation just became that hour they needed to get something done. I guess you can feel good about that part. So it is not just the lack of engagement. It’s the noise. Some people are very loud when typing.
4. Talk to a neighbor – This happened to another professional speaker (really) at a recent conference I attended. The guy was in the back but decided to open a dialogue with a table mate during the middle of a presentation. That table mate happened to be across an 8 foot round table. Despite the shushing from others, he kept it going for almost 3o seconds. Destroying the flow in the back of the room.
5. Yawn – I know all of the physiological reasons why people yawn, but people should at least try to cover it up, right? If someone makes a loud yawning noise and raises their hands over the head, do you think that is off-putting? Yes. Even worse if they stretch out their legs and twist. Yes, I’ve seen this happen.
6. Sleep – If this happens, it is usually due to other circumstances. Like too much cold medicine, a bad hotel bed or a night cramming for their own presentation that day. At least we’d like to believe that’s true. Recently I had some one pass out (fall asleep) and he came up after the presentation to apologize. Thought that was nice. Right after him in line was someone who thanked me for keeping them awake. Go figure.
7. Set up a portable office – A cousin to the “work on the computer” crowd, this is another great personal use of a professional speaker’s time. It has to do with all the administrative work that people need to do. Organizing receipts for an expense report, combining notes from a prior meeting or writing out a to do list. What’s worse is the message that is sent to the rest of the room. Small task management is more important than what was supposed to be a timely and cutting edge presentation topic.
8. Texting – Of course we’d love for someone in our audience to tweet positive reactions or share our brilliant quotes on Facebook. But that’s not usually what people are doing. Is it? No, they are usually texting with a friend, managing their email in-box or (the horror) playing Angry Birds. You’ll know the latter if their “texting” requires a lot of swiping.
9. Turning the other way – Of course some people get sore necks and need to sit a certain way with their elbows on a surface. But back to the speaker is a big statement. It’s like saying “speaker, you are dead to me”. But I’ve seen it. Of course as the professional speaker you have to ignore the person’s back and focus on a smiling, engaged face. If you can find one.
10. Stand up and walk around – This is distracting because people are looking for distractions. Does that make sense? It’s like when someone opens the big convention room door. Every head turns to see who it is. If there is coffee in the room no problem. If you think better on your feet no problem. But it’s better for everyone if the audience stays relatively still.
What have you seen? Please share your examples in the comments.
Feel free to use the “at a friend of mine’s presentation” if you are nervous about admitting to rotten things happening when you speak. Oh, and if you’ve never heard of Thom Singer, he is a top professional speaker. And I’m sure none of these rotten things have ever happened to him.