March 25, 2009

Navigating controversy

Kudos to the young woman in this article who stood by her beliefs and went forward with a difficult topic in a regional speech competition.

Having spent several years of my career presenting on controversial subjects, I understand how stressful it is, knowing before you begin that some members of your audience will automatically shut down when they hear the topic, and that some audience members will become upset or disturbed by your content.

Confidence, conviction and preparation are key, and I also found that, even in the toughest conversations, gentle humor and some well-placed lightheartedness can act as a spoonful of sugar to help the message go down.

In Hannah's case, there was no opportunity for audience interaction, but in a typical presentation setting when speaking on a difficult topic, you must always be prepared for hecklers and for challenging or hostile questions.

When you do have the opportunity for interaction, asking questions and inviting audience participation will build trust and let them know that you value what they have to say and share.

Most important, never judge your audience for not "getting it." It's your responsibility as a speaker to bring them to the point where they do get it, but understand that many audience members will have had their own experience of the topic that a one-hour or less presentation may not impact. Keep your perspective and don't take it personally if you just can't connect with some people.

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