Effective speaking has many enemies. A partial list would include a speaker’s lack of experience, stage fright, lack of training, no clear point, too much information, and finally, no clear flow, or structure.
We could go on. But the items on the list are only those enemies that hide within the speaker himself. What about the external enemies–the environmental obstacles, including those that hide within the audience?
Certainly one of the most stubborn opponents you can face as a speaker is an audience that has endured a morning’s worth of presentations, escaped into a lunch of heavy food and sweet desserts, only to be herded back into their seats to listen to you!
This is a test that separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. Such an audience can be somnolent, indifferent, and murderously hard on your ego.
What should you do?
- Throw a match on them. Light them on fire. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the greatest preachers in American history, once found himself on a hot day in a town in West Virginia known to be Death Valley for speakers. Sure enough, that afternoon, as he was being introduced, he saw that half the town was already dozing. He rose from his chair and, wiping his brow with a large handkerchief, strode to the front of the platform.
“It’s a God-damned hot day,” the clergyman began.
A thousand pairs of eyes opened wide. An electrical shock straightened the crowd erect. Beecher paused and then, raising a finger of solemn reproof, went on, “That’s what I heard a man say here this afternoon.”
He proceeded into a stirring condemnation of blasphemy–and took his audience with him.
2. Keep it interactive. Ask the audience questions. Ask them to discuss something in small groups for a few minutes. I’ve seen speakers ask the audience to shout in unison a product name whenever he mentioned the name in his speech. They got into it and listened carefully in order to be part of the chorus.
3. Keep it short and sweet. This is true always, but especially true after lunch. Don’t try to take the audience on a death march through your comprehensive analysis of photosynthesis in the genus papaver somniferum.
4. Speak and move with energy and verve. You are the leader, and your followers need to be inspired. Breathe some life into them.
5. Tell stories. The Golden Rule of after-dinner speaking is to make a simple point by telling a whimsical but relevant story. The same rule should apply to after-lunch speaking, even though your audience is not seated at their lunch table but back in the conference hall.
6. Know your enemy. Your enemy is the food in their stomachs that demands their attention, even as you demand their attention from the lectern. You must be more compelling than the food that drags them into the arms of Morpheus. Your talk must be flavorful, adequately salted and spicy with a variety of fascinating facts, insights, and bold opinions that are sprinkled with a dash of style, passion and humor.
In other words, you’ve got to be well-prepared, well-rehearsed, and well-seasoned to capture and keep their attention.
For other highly challenging speaking environments, go to How to Give Good Webinar
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