Which audience do you prefer: the one who is mandated or the one who chooses to be there?
Most speakers would agree, the audience who chooses to be there is the one we like better. They're interested in your topic, they're open to your opinions and they expect good things to come of their investment in time, energy and maybe money.
On the other hand, the mandated audience is much more difficult. They are there because they've been told to attend, not because they want to attend. They're either captive in a classroom or in a conference room, but either way, they're not there by choice. You're disrupting their day, interrupting their workflow, assaulting them with information they never asked for. Great.
Some speakers avoid the second kind of audience as much as possible. I read comments the other day by a speaker who says he doesn't like speaking to high school groups who are mandated to attend, especially those groups with "slackers" in the audience. He prefers the leadership-type groups where everyone is already open to participating and learning.
A motivational speaker who only likes speaking to groups who are already motivated?
I'd like to suggest that the slackers are the ones who need you the most!
I spent many years speaking to groups who were mandated to attend my presentations. Forget the slackers; I regularly spoke to gang-bangers, pregnant and parenting teens, kids who were repeatedly locked up, kids who were abused and abusers and kids who were addicted to drugs and alcohol.
When I wasn't at the juvenile justice facility, probation school or continuation schools, I was in regular high school classrooms where, even if the kids were respectful, most of them were hardly interested in taking part in a presentation about abusive relationships or healthy communication.
Yet, I relished speaking to these groups. I loved walking into a room where the kids sat slumped, arms crossed and looking at the floor, and ending up with a group who had engaged, participated and even learned.
I built relationships with some of these kids, especially the ones I saw over and over in one institution or another. Others just wanted someone to talk to, and I was able to be a resource for them or find an appropriate one.
Sometimes I would be checking out at a department store or paying my ticket at the parking kiosk and the young man or woman taking my money would mention that they still remembered my presentation from several years earlier.
It's not easy, but it's so worth it to find a way to meet your audience where they are, understanding their needs and concerns and addressing them.
It's so worth it to make the effort to bring your message to a group who thinks they don't need it.
Who's the better audience: the one who is already in the palm of your hand, or the one who won't make eye contact?
The first audience is less demanding and will certainly make you feel like a superstar.
But I would argue that the second audience is more valuable because of how much they need you, and because of the lessons you'll learn about making your message work for all kinds of audiences, not just the easy ones.