June 22, 2010

The audience doesn't need to know

Yesterday I gave a two-hour workshop after only two hours of sleep. I'm sure you know the feeling... lying in bed hour after hour, getting more and more frustrated and panicked as the time you have to get up approaches.

I finally got up at 6:15 for my 8:15 workshop, feeling crummy, but off I went. One thing I've learned over my many years of speaking and before that, performing: The show must go on! You suck it up and give the audience your all.

This post was inspired by my Twitter friend, paramedic, speaker and trainer Greg Friese, who asked if I told the audience, and how do I feel, in general, about such qualifying statements. In conversation with the organizer, I mentioned my lack of sleep, but did I tell the audience? No way!

Like many other apologies or qualifying statements speakers make ("I'm sorry, I'm very nervous" or "I apologize, I have a cold" or "I didn't have much time to prepare"), telling the audience your problems does the following:

1) It points out something they probably never would have noticed. Now they're alerted to your problem and looking for mistakes.

2) In the case of "I didn't have time to prepare"-type statements, it makes them wonder why they should bother listening to you when you didn't have the courtesy to prepare properly for them.

3) You're making it all about you! Personal stories are great if they're relevant to the presentaion, but the audience doesn't care if you're sick or tired or your mother is in the hospital. I'm not saying the audience is heartless, but they're there for information, for inspiration, for instruction. They are taking time away from other things and possibly giving you their hard-earned money to hear what you have to say. And what you have to say should not be "I didn't get enough sleep last night, so forgive me if my brain isn't fully functioning."

I've spoken while sick, while my cat was dying, while suffering a panic attack. I've spoken when tired, when my heart just wasn't in it, and when the audience didn't even want to be there.

I'm one of those lucky people who has endless stores of energy just for times like these. I also have learned how to compartmentalize. You never would have known I had a sleepless night, and the audience didn't have to know. When I got home, I crashed for an hour and then got back into my day.

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Zach Robbins said...

I even blacked out once in a performance. Had to figure out who I was, where I was, and what my next step was. Thankfully it only lasted a few seconds, but in my head it lasted minutes. I had to use every inch of motivation to keep going. But it turned out and the audience didn't miss a beat. Qualifying statements and excuses only ruin any respect the audience may have for you. Just do it. Good stuff.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Scary! And still, the audience rarely can tell that something is wrong. "Just do it" is right!

Greg Friese said...

Thanks Lisa for expanding our Twitter conversation into a full blog post. I find it helpful as a speaker to take a mental time out before a presentation to "park" any self-doubts, distractions, and qualifiers. Part of my process to make sure I am present for the audience.

Also an important consideration is to remember that audience members may have their own doubts, worries, or distractions. I want to be present for them, but I can't judge or value the things that are causing them to be inattentive. That is how I moved past distractions from cellphones ringing or people texting. Maybe they are getting an important update on their hospitalized mother and that moment of distraction will help them be fully present for the rest of the presentation.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Great point, Greg. I never take it personally when some audience members aren't 100% present with me. We've all got a lot on our minds. It's my job as the speaker to do the best I can at engaging them, but distractions are a part of life and a part of every presentation.

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