Marjorie faced her audience with a confident look. She seemed so poised that listeners expected a polished, highly professional job. Unfortunately, within two minutes she lost her listeners. Why?
Not because she forgot her material. Not because she had trouble getting her words out—her enunciation was flawless and fluent. Not because she made inaccurate statements.
No, Marjorie’s problem arose when she used what we call, quite politely, “off color” material. Thinking she was going to amuse the group, she described her personal life with a man she was dating—in far greater physical detail than anyone wanted to hear.
A few people laughed, but only out of discomfort and embarrassment. Most audience members cringed, shuddered, and tuned out the rest of her talk
The big problem: Marjorie illustrated that she did not respect her audience. She guessed they would prefer tasteless humor to solid information and inspirational remarks. Not surprisingly, she couldn’t gain their respect.
So a good first step toward demonstrating respect for your audience is to avoid risqué comments. A wise guideline: When in doubt, leave it out.
Another way to illustrate respect for your audience: Stay within the expected time limit.
Did you ever have a college or university professor who kept on lecturing after the bell sounded? Remember how you and your classmates felt? You couldn’t concentrate on the lecture. You were thinking, “Doesn’t he know that some of us have to dash across campus to arrive at our next class, and we barely make it even when this class ends on time? Why doesn’t he consider how rushed we are, and stop talking?” In almost every presentation, exceeding your time limit will inconvenience participants, and probably other speakers who follow you. Viewed more positively, using no more than your allotted time (or preferably a few minutes less) will show that you respect everyone connected with the occasion, including the meeting planner.
Also, demonstrate respect by involving your audience actively, through discussion and other meaningful interaction. A monologue presentation could give the impression that you consider yourself the sole expert in the room. Dialogue indicates you are open to fresh ideas, even those that challenge what you have presented.
You can encourage interaction with introductory comments like this: “I don’t think of myself as having all the good ideas on this topic, so now I invite you to share your responses with me and the group.” More specifically, you can invite feedback from individuals: “Marilyn, I know you have written articles on this subject. What would you add to what we have covered so far?” Fourth, you demonstrate respect by giving a speech that is customized, not canned. As your listener, I want to know that you are not speaking “to whom it may concern,” but that you are speaking exclusively to me and my colleagues. Show me you have read our mission statement, browsed our history, visited our Web site, noted our major accomplishments, and assessed our chief challenges. Better still, quote three or four of our leaders you have interviewed—in person when possible, or by phone or e-mail.
To sum up: In order to gain top-level respect from your audiences, demonstrate your respect first. Assume they want nothing less than dignified content. Honor your time limit. Involve participants actively. Give speeches that are customized, not canned. Do this, and your audiences will honor you with applause and invitations to return.
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Communication Consultant,
Speech Coach, and Video Trainer, "Helping You Finish in First Place." Visit his Web site, Championship Communication. Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300