Tuning into the Attitude of your Audience
In a previous post, I talked about the importance of considering your audience and their perspective(s) on your topic as you plan your presentation. In that article, we talked about all the things you need to discover about your audience. Well, not exactly “all” of the things. I left one thing off that list, and that is the topic of this blog post… what is the attitude of your audience?
What do I mean by attitude of the audience? By this I mean, how are they feeling? What is their mood? What is their mindset as they sit and listen to you? Have they come with a bias or a point of view about you or your topic?
There are many factors that can play into how an audience is feeling when they come to your presentation, but we are going to focus on just two. The first has to do with whether audience members have chosen to attend your presentation or if they have been mandated to go. Put simply, “Do they want to be there or do they have to be there?” Obviously, audience members who have chosen to be present to hear you speak are more likely to be in a positive state of mind than those who have been obligated to attend. Audience members in a positive state of mind are generally easier to please.
The other thing that influences how your audience is listening to you has to do with how they view your topic. Most people come to a presentation with some preconceived ideas or notions about the topic. Audience members could potentially be in one of three states of mind regarding your topic:
- They could agree with your views on the topic, in which case they are “On Your Side”.
- They could be “Impartial” to the topic. People can be impartial about a topic for three reasons:
- They are uninformed
- They are informed but don’t have strong feelings about the topic (Uninterested)
- They are informed but have not made up their minds about where they stand on the topic (Undecided)
- They could strongly disagree with your views on the topic, making them “Hostile”
You might ask, “Why should I be concerned with this? I can’t affect it.” The short answer is, “That’s not true.” There are things you can do both in terms of content and delivery that can play to each of these three types of audiences. The attitude or mood of the audience should have a great deal to do with how you prepare and how you behave during the presentation.
The On Your Side audience is the easiest to deal with. They will be open to your ideas and be looking to support you. The Hostile audience is arguably the most challenging, but Impartial audiences can also require careful handling. Here are some tips for how to prepare for the three types of Impartial audiences and Hostile audiences:
Tips for Approaching Three Types of Neutral Audiences
- Uninformed: establish your credibility; use rhetorical questions to put questions in their minds; don’t overwhelm them with too much information; keep your inputs specific and focused
- Uninterested: help them to visualize the benefits of your idea; tell them what’s in it for them; give specific examples; get them involved by suggesting things they can easily do
- Undecided: are usually well-informed, so don’t give them more facts; focus on a few selected points and try to change their perception of them; make a “what have you got to lose” proposition
Tips for Handling Difficult and/or Hostile Audiences
- Find common ground: start with areas where agreement is likely; divide information into sections; be realistic about what you can achieve, take small steps
- Show them you see their point of view: describe their arguments in your words; clearly state the areas of disagreement; don’t exaggerate your point of view or use “absolute” language
- Present facts and evidence: refer to experts and authorities; be explicit about where your information comes from; don’t try to overtly convince them; they will fight you
I hope these tips will come in handy the next time you are preparing a presentation for one of these types of audiences.