December 18, 2013

Are you making excuses to avoid your audience?

The conversation yesterday started with my client telling me that he would like to be more personable, and that he has trouble making eye contact with the audience.

After we talked about that for a bit, and I gave him some challenges to do outside of speaking to practice his eye contact, I started to discover more about how much he's been holding himself back.

He told me that he avoids the lunches and dinners that precede his talks because he doesn't like to eat before speaking. I agreed and suggested he sit at the table and converse with the other guests while drinking a glass of water or nibbling something small. He doesn't need to eat, but he should be hanging out with them if he's invited (especially when they're his company's clients, which they often are).

Then the real issue came out: "I'm an introvert," he said. "I hate going to those things and sitting at tables with a bunch of people I don't know and having to make conversation."

Sound familiar, anyone?

Guess what: I don't enjoy this either. I find events like these very stressful when I don't know anyone, and especially when I have to find a place to sit at a table where everyone else is already acquainted. It's like walking into the cafeteria in junior high and scouring the room looking for that one friendly face.


1) Interacting with the audience before and after you speak is part of your job.

2) Avoiding interacting with the audience is called "making excuses," and you have to stop making excuses.

If you think a speaking engagement is just about speaking, you're wrong.

If you try to stay away from the audience as long as possible, hiding outside in your car or in the restroom, or pretending to look at your notes so you don't have to talk to anyone -- and you think that's okay -- you're wrong.

Speakers who don't engage with the audience or avoid the audience run the risk of coming across as unfriendly prima donnas who are "too good" to hang around with the unimportant people. I'm not saying that's why you're doing it. But why you're doing it doesn't matter to your audience.

Their perception will be that you're unapproachable and inaccessible, and can easily harm the potentially successful business relationship you could have with audience members. Looking for clients? Looking for visibility and credibility? If you don't connect with your audience, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

Now about about that excuse you're making? The one about being an introvert? I'm hearing this more and more as a reason why people don't speak or go to networking events to build their businesses.

It's just not a good enough reason. You can't just sit at your computer and hope to get clients on Facebook. You must get out in the world and meet people and talk to people. Yes, it's awkward. Yes, it can be uncomfortable. So what?

You can learn how to do these things. You can learn how to make yourself more comfortable in a room full of strangers. Every time I go to an event, I have to push myself to talk to people. But I do it. I get better at it every time.

Because it's my job.

My job as a speaker is to give my audience an awesome experience. My job is to collaborate with them, participate with them, and get them interested in my topic and motivated to take action... and, if I'm really on my game, to pursue a further, future business relationship. My job, as an entrepreneur, is to get clients and grow my business and make money.

There is no excuse good enough to keep me or you from making this a critical part of your speaking engagements.

So next time, go early. Meet people. Mingle. Sit at the table or have a cocktail or glass of water with them. After your presentation, stick around. Chat with people, answer questions, be sociable.

I know it's hard doing this kind of stuff when you're an introvert, but you have to suck it up. Don't let the label decide what you can and can't do. Get out of your comfort zone, learn how to be more comfortable with people, and do it. As I said, I don't love doing these things either.

But without these interactions, you're leaving clients in the dust and money on the table. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, there is no question that you need to be with people, in person, for them to get to know, like and trust you.

If you're an introvert, I've got the program for you: SpeakUP! 8 Daily Challenges to Build Your Confidence Muscles at Work, at Home, and in Front of an Audience

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Rob. Yes, actors are notorious introverts; acting was what brought me out of my shell when I was a teenager, and I still prefer to be onstage than in a room full of strangers! And you make a great point; you have to be the same person onstage as off. Another reason to work on those social skills!

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