March 31, 2008

Which audience do you like better?



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.

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Rhett Laubach said...

Lisa, great post and great question. I have more than one speaking peer in the student market that prefers high school assemblies. That is where their passion lives, that is where they expertise lives and that is where their experience lives.

I have a 45-minute "piece" that I have been doing in high schools for years that works, it moves the students from the crossed arms look to the edge of their seat look and I really enjoy doing it.

However, to answer your question, I do prefer the leadership-type groups. I think the reason is not because of difficulty of movement (i.e. - easier to motivate the motivated), I think it is more that I prefer to teach the deeper concepts. Using Bloom's Taxonomy language (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), I prefer to take students who are already applying and analyzing leadership and life skills and help them synthesize - help them build new, more complex patterns. I.e. - we are able to move beyond talking about basic communication elements like eye contact and work them through elements like asking leading questions, reading body language for small attitude cues, etc.

I think the "what audience do you prefer question" is a great authenticity test for a presenter and really needs to be answered. I think the next question would be "what content do you prefer?" I think the answer to that question drives the answer to your first question.

Thanks for the "comment-provoking" post!!!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for commenting, Rhett.

I've definitely enjoyed both kinds of groups. I always really enjoyed presenting to the kids who wanted to be there because, as you pointed out, we could have deeper and more complex conversations. And that's not to say that those audiences didn't need the same information as the other audiences!

I suppose we could all have various levels of the same topic for beginner through advanced audiences. That way we're reaching everyone who needs us, but in the way that works best for them.

Janet Wendy, founder, Gen Plus said...

We often can learn our best lessons from the hardest audiences. If all our presentations went smooth as silk and every audience was engaged, then how would we, as presenters, evolve? My greatest lessons have come from the bombs...the workshop geared to the wrong target; the crowd that didn't want to be there and has a lot of anger to vent; the question or problem you couldn't solve...those are the times where you evolve. I wouldn't be satisfied in my own growth without an occasional tough crowd.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for commenting, Janet. I feel the same way; I so appreciate the opportunities I've had to improve as a speaker because of the difficult groups. We don't want them all the time, but we can't really grow without them!

Nick R Thomas said...

It's interesting here in the UK when famous entertainers such as comedians are booked for corporate gigs. They are used to performing in theatres for large audiences of fans who have chosen - and paid - to be there but at an awards ceremony, training event or company dinner, the audience will consist of some who adore them, others who can take or leave them, a number who can't stand them and even a few who have never even heard of them.

Many of our speaker agency websites have posted film clips which vary from household names who look to be in shock at the fact that they're not bringing the house down for once to others who are going brilliantly - perhaps as a result of research, tailoring material and believing that a corporate audience is as important as any other.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That must be a rude awakening, Nick! To be a well-known comedian performing for an audience that has never heard of you. . . horrors! ;-)

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